Monetary reward modulates task-irrelevant perceptual learning for invisible stimuli

  • Pascucci D
  • Mastropasqua T
  • Turatto M
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Abstract

Task Irrelevant Perceptual Learning (TIPL) shows that the brain’s discriminative capacity can improve also for invisible and unattended visual stimuli. It has been hypothesized that this form of “unconscious” neural plasticity is mediated by an endogenous reward mechanism triggered by the correct task performance. Although this result has challenged the mandatory role of attention in perceptual learning, no direct evidence exists of the hypothesized link between target recognition, reward and TIPL. Here, we manipulated the reward value associated with a target to demonstrate the involvement of reinforcement mechanisms in sensory plasticity for invisible inputs. Participants were trained in a central task associated with either high or low monetary incentives, provided only at the end of the experiment, while subliminal stimuli were presented peripherally. Our results showed that high incentive-value targets induced a greater degree of perceptual improvement for the subliminal stimuli, supporting the role of reinforcement mechanisms in TIPL.

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