How does the brain learn those visual features that are relevant for behavior? In this article, we focus on two factors that guide plasticity of visual representations. First, reinforcers cause the global release of diffusive neuromodulatory signals that gate plasticity. Second, attentional feedback signals highlight the chain of neurons between sensory and motor cortex responsible for the selected action. We here propose that the attentional feedback signals guide learning by suppressing plasticity of irrelevant features while permitting the learning of relevant ones. By hypothesizing that sensory signals that are too weak to be perceived can escape from this inhibitory feedback, we bring attentional learning theories and theories that emphasized the importance of neuromodulatory signals into a single, unified framework. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.