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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2014 Jun;14(2):493-508. doi: 10.3758/s13415-013-0241-z.

A new perspective on human reward research: how consciously and unconsciously perceived reward information influences performance.

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  • 1Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, 93106-9660, USA, claire.zedelius@psych.ucsb.edu.


The question of how human performance can be improved through rewards is a recurrent topic of interest in psychology and neuroscience. Traditional, cognitive approaches to this topic have focused solely on consciously communicated rewards. Recently, a largely neuroscience-inspired perspective has emerged to examine the potential role of conscious awareness of reward information in effective reward pursuit. The present article reviews research employing a newly developed monetary-reward-priming paradigm that allows for a systematic investigation of this perspective. We analyze this research to identify similarities and differences in how consciously and unconsciously perceived rewards impact three distinct aspects relevant to performance: decision making, task preparation, and task execution. We further discuss whether conscious awareness, in modulating the effects of reward information, plays a role similar to its role in modulating the effects of other affective information. Implications of these insights for understanding the role of consciousness in modulating goal-directed behavior more generally are discussed.

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