Valentina Rossi, Naomi Vanlessen, Mareike Bayer, Annika Grass, Gilles Pourtois and Annekathrin Schacht

Motivational salience modulates early visual cortex responses across task sets

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Motivationally relevant stimuli benefit from strengthened sensory processing. It is unclear, however, if motivational value of positive and negative valence has similar or dissociable effects on early visual processing. Moreover, whether these perceptual effects are task-specific, stimulus-specific, or more generally feature-based is unknown. In this study, we compared the effects of positive and negative motivational value on early sensory processing using ERPs. We tested the extent to which these effects could generalize to new task contexts and to stimuli sharing common features with the motivationally significant ones. At the behavioral level, stimuli paired with positive incentives were learned faster than stimuli paired with neutral or negative outcomes. The ERP results showed that monetary loss elicited higher neural activity in V1 (at the C1 level) compared with reward, whereas the latter influenced postperceptual processing stages (P300). Importantly, the early loss-related effect generalized to new contexts and to new stimuli with common features, whereas the later reward effects did not spill over to the new context. These results suggest that acquired negative motivational salience can influence early sensory processing by means of plastic changes in feature-based processing in V1.