Attention to Stimuli of Learned versus Innate Biological Value Relies on Separate Neural Systems

Peter M. Kaskan, Mark A. Nicholas, Aaron M. Dean, Elisabeth A. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The neural bases of attention, a set of neural processes that promote behavioral selection, is a subject of intense investigation. In humans, rewarded cues influence attention, even when those cues are irrelevant to the current task. Because the amygdala plays a role in reward processing, and the activity of amygdala neurons has been linked to spatial attention, we reasoned that the amygdala may be essential for attending to rewarded images. To test this possibility, we used an attentional capture task, which provides a quantitative measure of attentional bias. Specifically, we compared reaction times (RTs) of adult male rhesus monkeys with bilateral amygdala lesions and unoperated controls as they made a saccade away from a high- or low-value rewarded image to a peripheral target. We predicted that: (1) RTs will be longer for high- compared with low-value images, revealing attentional capture by rewarded stimuli; and (2) relative to controls, monkeys with amygdala lesions would exhibit shorter RT for high-value images. For comparison, we assessed the same groups of monkeys for attentional capture by images of predators and conspecifics, categories thought to have innate biological value. In performing the attentional capture task, all monkeys were slowed more by high-value relative to low-value rewarded images. Contrary to our prediction, amygdala lesions failed to disrupt this effect. When presented with images of predators and conspecifics, however, monkeys with amygdala lesions showed significantly diminished attentional capture relative to controls. Thus, separate neural pathways are responsible for allocating attention to stimuli with learned versus innate value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9242-9252
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 7 2022


  • amygdala
  • attentional capture
  • macaque
  • orienting
  • pupil diameter
  • stimulus-reward learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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