Task preparation processes related to reward prediction precede those related to task-difficulty expectation.
Recently, attempts have been made to disentangle the neural underpinnings of preparatory processes related to reward and attention. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research showed that neural activity related to the anticipation of reward and to attentional demands invokes neural activity patterns featuring large-scale overlap, along with some differences and interactions. Due to the limited temporal resolution of fMRI, however, the temporal dynamics of these processes remain unclear. Here, we report an event-related potentials (ERP) study in which cued attentional demands and reward prospect were combined in a factorial design. Results showed that reward prediction dominated early cue processing, as well as the early and later parts of the contingent negative variation (CNV) slow-wave ERP component that has been associated with task-preparation processes. Moreover these reward-related electrophysiological effects correlated across participants with response time speeding on reward-prospect trials. In contrast, cued attentional demands affected only the later part of the CNV, with the highest amplitudes following cues predicting high-difficulty potential-reward targets, thus suggesting maximal task preparation when the task requires it and entails reward prospect. Consequently, we suggest that task-preparation processes triggered by reward can arise earlier, and potentially more directly, than strategic top-down aspects of preparation based on attentional demands.
Schevernels, H; Krebs, RM; Santens, P; Woldorff, MG; Boehler, CN
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