Scientific article
Open access

Influence of reward learning on visual attention and eye movements in a naturalistic environment: A virtual reality study

Published inPLOS ONE, vol. 13, no. 12, e0207990
Publication date2018

Rewards constitute crucial signals that motivate approach behavior and facilitate the perceptual processing of objects associated with favorable outcomes in past encounters. Reward-related influences on perception and attention have been reliably observed in studies where a reward is paired with a unidimensional low-level visual feature, such as the color or orientation of a line in visual search tasks. However, our environment is drastically different and composed of multidimensional and changing visual features, encountered in complex and dynamic scenes. Here, we designed an immersive virtual reality (VR) experiment using a 4-frame CAVE system to investigate the impact of rewards on attentional orienting and gaze patterns in a naturalistic and ecological environment. Forty-one healthy participants explored a virtual forest and responded to targets appearing on either the left or right side of their path. To test for reward-induced biases in spatial orienting, targets on one side were associated with high reward, whereas those on the opposite side were paired with a low reward. Eye-movements recording showed that left-side high rewards led to subsequent increase of eye gaze fixations towards this side of the path, but no such asymmetry was found after exposure to right-sided high rewards. A milder spatial bias was also observed after left-side high rewards during subsequent exploration of a virtual castle yard, but not during route turn choices along the forest path. Our results indicate that reward-related influences on attention and behavior may be better learned in left than right space, in line with a right hemisphere dominance, and could generalize to another environment to some extent, but not to spatial choices in another decision task, suggesting some domain- or context-specificity. This proof-of-concept study also outlines the advantages and the possible drawbacks of the use of the 3D CAVE immersive platform for VR in neuroscience.

Citation (ISO format)
BOURGEOIS, Alexia et al. Influence of reward learning on visual attention and eye movements in a naturalistic environment: A virtual reality study. In: PLOS ONE, 2018, vol. 13, n° 12, p. e0207990. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0207990
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Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal1932-6203

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