Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How potential reward biases our attention

Our eyes dart about (make saccades) rapidly as we view a visual scene - without these small rapid movements we are blind. Milsteen and Doris have made the fascinating observation that how rapidly we make these small movements can be influenced by the potential reward value of the visual target. Here is the work, in abstract-speak:
Basing higher-order decisions on expected value (reward probability x reward magnitude) maximizes an agent's accruement of reward over time. The goal of this study was to determine whether the advanced preparation of simple actions reflected the expected value of the potential outcomes. Human subjects were required to direct a saccadic eye movement to a visual target that was presented either to the left or right of a central fixation point on each trial. Expected value was manipulated by adjusting the probability of presenting each target and their associated magnitude of monetary reward across 15 blocks of trials. We found that saccadic reaction times (SRTs) were negatively correlated to the relative expected value of the targets. Occasionally, an irrelevant visual distractor was presented before the target to probe the spatial allocation of saccadic preparation. Distractor-directed errors (oculomotor captures) varied as a function of the relative expected value of, and the distance of distractors from, the potential valued targets. SRTs and oculomotor captures were better correlated to the relative expected value of actions than to reward probability, reward magnitude, or overall motivation. Together, our results suggest that the level and spatial distribution of competitive dynamic neural fields representing saccadic preparation reflect the relative expected value of the potential actions.

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