Reward-related mesolimbic dopamine steers animal behavior, creating automatic approach toward reward-associated objects and avoidance of objects unlikely to be beneficial. Theories of dopamine suggest that this reflects underlying biases in perception and attention, with reward enhancing the representation of reward-associated stimuli such that attention is more likely to be deployed to the location of these objects. Using measures of behavior and brain electricity in male and female humans, we demonstrate this to be the case. Sensory and perceptual processing of reward-associated visual features is facilitated such that attention is deployed to objects characterized by these features in subsequent experimental trials. This is the case even when participants know that a strategic decision to attend to reward-associated features will be counterproductive and result in suboptimal performance. Other results show that the magnitude of visual bias created by reward is predicted by the response to reward feedback in anterior cingulate cortex, an area with strong connections to dopaminergic structures in the midbrain. These results demonstrate that reward has an impact on vision that is independent of its role in the strategic establishment of endogenous attention. We suggest that reward acts to change visual salience and thus plays an important and undervalued role in attentional control.
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