Overt attentional capture by reward-related stimuli overcomes inhibitory suppression

Daniel Pearson*, Poppy Watson, Phillip (Xin) Cheng, Mike E. Le Pelley

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Salient-but-irrelevant distractors can automatically capture attention and eye-gaze in visual search. However, recent findings have suggested that attention to salient-but-irrelevant stimuli can be suppressed when observers use a specific target template to guide their search (i.e., feature search). A separate line of research has indicated that attentional selection is influenced by factors other than the physical salience of a stimulus and the observer's goals. For instance, pairing a stimulus with reward has been shown to increase the extent to which it captures attention and gaze (as though it has become more physically salient), even when such capture has negative consequences for the observer. Here we used eye-tracking with a rewarded visual search task to investigate whether capture by reward can be suppressed in the same way as capture by physical salience. When participants were encouraged to use feature search, attention to a distractor paired with relatively small reward was suppressed. However, under the same conditions attention was captured by a distractor paired with large reward, even when such capture resulted in reward omission. These findings suggest that reward-related stimuli are given special priority within the visual attention system over and above physically salient stimuli, and have implications for our understanding of real-world biases to reward-related stimuli, such as those seen in addiction.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)489-501
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - May 2020


    • attentional capture
    • cognitive control
    • reward
    • suppression

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