Reward-priming impacts visual working memory maintenance: Evidence from human electrophysiology

Elisa Infanti*, Clayton Hickey, Nicholas Menghi, Massimo Turatto

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Reward can benefit visual processing of reward-associated objects in a non-strategic way. Recent studies have suggested that such influence extends also to visual working memory (VWM) representations of reward-associated stimuli. However, it is not clear yet which mechanisms underlie the behavioural effects in VWM tasks: reward could directly impact on our ability to maintain representations in VWM or it could influence memory indirectly via priming of attentional selection. To distinguish between these alternatives we measured event-related potential indices of selective attention–the N2pc–and VWM maintenance–the CDA (contralateral delay activity)–while participants completed a VWM task. Results show that reward outcome in one trial caused similarly coloured targets to be strongly represented in VWM in subsequent trials, as expressed in a larger-amplitude CDA This was not preceded by a corresponding effect on attentional selection, in so far as our key manipulation had no impact on the N2pc. In a second experiment, we found that reward priming produced a behavioural benefit that emerged over time, suggesting that the representations of reward-associated items stored in VWM are more resistant to interference and decay. We conclude that when the task stresses VWM maintenance, it is at this representational level that reward will have impact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)956-971
Number of pages16
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number9-10
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2017


  • CDA
  • maintenance
  • N2pc
  • reward priming
  • VWM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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