Reward associations impact both iconic and visual working memory

Elisa Infanti, Clayton Hickey, Massimo Turatto
Vision Research 2015, 107: 22-9
Reward plays a fundamental role in human behavior. A growing number of studies have shown that stimuli associated with reward become salient and attract attention. The aim of the present study was to extend these results into the investigation of iconic memory and visual working memory. In two experiments we asked participants to perform a visual-search task where different colors of the target stimuli were paired with high or low reward. We then tested whether the pre-established feature-reward association affected performance on a subsequent visual memory task, in which no reward was provided. In this test phase participants viewed arrays of 8 objects, one of which had unique color that could match the color associated with reward during the previous visual-search task. A probe appeared at varying intervals after stimulus offset to identify the to-be-reported item. Our results suggest that reward biases the encoding of visual information such that items characterized by a reward-associated feature interfere with mnemonic representations of other items in the test display. These results extend current knowledge regarding the influence of reward on early cognitive processes, suggesting that feature-reward associations automatically interact with the encoding and storage of visual information, both in iconic memory and visual working memory.

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