Motivation and short-term memory in visual search: Attention's accelerator revisited

Daniel Schneider*, Claudia Bonmassar, Clayton Hickey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


A cue indicating the possibility of cash reward will cause participants to perform memory-based visual search more efficiently. A recent study has suggested that this performance benefit might reflect the use of multiple memory systems: when needed, participants may maintain the to-be-remembered object in both long-term and short-term visual memory, with this redundancy benefitting target identification during search (Reinhart, McClenahan & Woodman, 2016). Here we test this compelling hypothesis. We had participants complete a memory-based visual search task involving a reward cue that either preceded presentation of the to-be-remembered target (pre-cue) or followed it (retro-cue). Following earlier work, we tracked memory representation using two components of the event-related potential (ERP): the contralateral delay activity (CDA), reflecting short-term visual memory, and the anterior P170, reflecting long-term storage. We additionally tracked attentional preparation and deployment in the contingent negative variation (CNV) and N2pc, respectively. Results show that only the reward pre-cue impacted our ERP indices of memory. However, both types of cue elicited a robust CNV, reflecting an influence on task preparation, both had equivalent impact on deployment of attention to the target, as indexed in the N2pc, and both had equivalent impact on visual search behavior. Reward prospect thus has an influence on memory-guided visual search, but this does not appear to be necessarily mediated by a change in the visual memory representations indexed by CDA. Our results demonstrate that the impact of motivation on search is not a simple product of improved memory for target templates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-56
Number of pages12
Early online date13 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • Attention
  • CDA
  • Long-term memory
  • Reward
  • Short-term memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Motivation and short-term memory in visual search: Attention's accelerator revisited'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this