Multiple reward-cue contingencies favor expectancy over uncertainty in shaping the reward-cue attentional salience.


Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento, Corso Bettini, 31, 38068, Rovereto, Italy. [Email]


Reward-predicting cues attract attention because of their motivational value. A debated question regards the conditions under which the cue's attentional salience is governed more by reward expectancy rather than by reward uncertainty. To help shedding light on this relevant issue, here, we manipulated expectancy and uncertainty using three levels of reward-cue contingency, so that, for example, a high level of reward expectancy (p = .8) was compared with the highest level of reward uncertainty (p = .5). In Experiment 1, the best reward-cue during conditioning was preferentially attended in a subsequent visual search task. This result was replicated in Experiment 2, in which the cues were matched in terms of response history. In Experiment 3, we implemented a hybrid procedure consisting of two phases: an omission contingency procedure during conditioning, followed by a visual search task as in the previous experiments. Crucially, during both phases, the reward-cues were never task relevant. Results confirmed that, when multiple reward-cue contingencies are explored by a human observer, expectancy is the major factor controlling both the attentional and the oculomotor salience of the reward-cue.