Interactions between incentive valence and action information in a cued approach-avoidance task.


Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000, Ghent, Belgium. [Email]


Environmental stimuli can provoke specific response tendencies depending on their incentive valence. While some studies report positive-approach and negative-avoidance biases, others find no such mappings. To further illuminate the relationship between incentive valence and action requirement, we combined a cued monetary incentive paradigm with an approach/avoidance joystick task. Incentive type was manipulated between groups: The reward group won money, while the punishment group avoided losing money for correct and fast responses to targets following incentive cues. Depending on their orientations, targets had to be 'approached' or 'avoided'. Importantly, incentive valence (signaled by cue color) was orthogonal to action requirement (target orientation). Moreover, targets could carry valence-associated information or not (target color), which was, however, task-irrelevant. First, we observed that both valence cues (reward/punishment) improved performance compared to neutral cues, independent of the required action (approach/avoid), suggesting that advance valence cues do not necessarily produce specific action biases. Second, task-irrelevant valence associations with targets promoted action biases, with valence-associated targets facilitating approach and impairing avoid responses. Importantly, this approach bias for valence-associated targets was observed in both groups and hence occurred independently of absolute valence ('unsigned'). This rather unexpected finding might be related to the absence of a direct contrast between positive valence and negative valence within groups and the common goal to respond fast and accurately in all incentive trials. Together, our results seem to challenge the notion that monetary incentives trigger 'hard-wired' valence-action biases in that specific design choices seem to modulate the presence and/or direction of valence-action biases.


Action,Approach/avoidance,Monetary incentive paradigm,Punishment,Reward,Valence,

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