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Remembering the outcomes of past experiences allows us to generate future expectations and shape selection in the long-term. A growing number of studies has shown that learned positive reward values impact spatial memory-based attentional biases on perception. However, whether memory-driven attentional biases extend to punishment-related values has received comparatively less attention. Here, we manipulated whether recent spatial contextual memories became associated with successful avoidance of punishment (potential monetary loss). Behavioral and electrophysiological measures were collected from 27 participants during a subsequent memory-based attention task, in which we tested for the effect of punishment avoidance associations. Punishment avoidance significantly amplified effects of spatial contextual memories on visual search processes within natural scenes. Compared to non-associated scenes, contextual memories paired with punishment avoidance lead to faster responses to targets presented at remembered locations. Event-related potentials elicited by target stimuli revealed that acquired motivational value of specific spatial locations, by virtue of their association with past avoidance of punishment, dynamically affected neural signatures of early visual processing (indexed by larger P1 and earlier N1 potentials) and target selection (as indicated by reduced N2pc potentials). The present results extend our understanding of how memory, attention, and punishment-related mechanisms interact to optimize perceptual decision in real world environments.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





231 - 245


Event-related potentials, Long-term memory, Punishment, Visuospatial attention