Reward determines the context-sensitivity of cognitive control

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Reward is thought to enhance cognitive control processes in various ways, but the impact of reward on the context-sensitivity of cognitive control remains unclear. Evidence from perception and attention studies suggests that a good outcome, in contrast to a suboptimal outcome, acts to increase saliency and attentional capture for attended visual features that led to this outcome. As a consequence, such features gain a competitive advantage in future perception. In the present article, we investigate the possibility that this interplay between reward and contextual visual features can impact the scope of higher cognitive control processes, specifically conflict monitoring. To this end, we ran 2 experiments. First, by combining a visual search paradigm with a letter flanker task, we demonstrate how the congruency sequence effect can be observed when salient task irrelevant features repeat, but disappears when those features alternate. These findings are in line with earlier observations on the context-sensitivity of cognitive control. In a second experiment, we added a reward manipulation, demonstrating that this context-sensitivity is promoted following high reward but disappears following low reward. The results suggest a role for reward in modulating the context-sensitivity and scope of cognitive control.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1769-1778
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Associative learning, Cognitive control, Reinforcement learning, Reward