To look or not to look? Reward, selection history, and oculomotor guidance

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The current eye-tracking study examined the influence of reward on oculomotor performance, and the extent to which learned stimulus-reward associations interacted with voluntary oculomotor control with a modified paradigm based on the classical antisaccade task. Participants were shown two equally salient stimuli simultaneously: a gray and a colored circle, and they were instructed to make a fast saccade to one of them. During the first phase of the experiment, participants made a fast saccade toward the colored stimulus, and their performance determined a (cash) bonus. During the second, participants made a saccade toward the gray stimulus, with no rewards available. On each trial, one of three colors was presented, each associated with high, low or no reward during the first phase. Results from the first phase showed improved accuracy and shorter saccade latencies on high-reward trials, while those from the second replicated well-known effects typical of the antisaccade task, namely, decreased accuracy and increased latency during phase II, even despite the absence of abrupt asymmetric onsets. Crucially, performance differences between phases revealed longer latencies and less accurate saccades during the second phase for high-reward trials, compared with the low- and no-reward trials. Further analyses indicated that oculomotor capture by reward signals is mainly found for saccades with short latencies, while this automatic capture can be overridden through voluntary control with longer ones. These results highlight the natural flexibility and adaptability of the attentional system, and the role of reward in modulating this plasticity. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Typically, in the antisaccade task, participants need to suppress an automatic orienting reflex toward a suddenly appearing peripheral stimulus. Here, we introduce an alternative antisaccade task without such abrupt onsets. We replicate well-known antisaccade effects (more errors and longer latencies), demonstrating the role of reward in developing selective oculomotor biases. Results highlight how reward and selection history facilitate developing automatic biases from goal-driven behavior, and they suggest that this process responds to individual differences in impulsivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1740-1752
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number4
Early online date3 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


This research was supported by an ERC Advanced Grant (ERC-2012-AdG-323413 to J. Theeuwes).

FundersFunder number
Seventh Framework Programme323413
European Research Council


    • antisaccade
    • attentional bias
    • eye-tracking
    • goal-driven
    • reward-driven


    Dive into the research topics of 'To look or not to look? Reward, selection history, and oculomotor guidance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this