A quantitative relationship between signal detection in attention and approach/avoidance behavior

Vijay Viswanathan, John P. Sheppard, Byoung W. Kim, Christopher L. Plantz, Hao Ying, Myung J. Lee, Kalyan Raman, Frank J. Mulhern, Martin P. Block, Bobby Calder, Sang Lee, Dale T. Mortensen, Anne J. Blood, Hans C. Breiter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This study examines how the domains of reward and attention, which are often studied as independent processes, in fact interact at a systems level. We operationalize divided attention with a continuous performance task and variables from signal detection theory (SDT), and reward/aversion with a keypress task measuring approach/avoidance in the framework of relative preference theory (RPT). Independent experiments with the same subjects showed a significant association between one SDT and two RPT variables, visualized as a three-dimensional structure. Holding one of these three variables constant, further showed a significant relationship between a loss aversion-like metric from the approach/avoidance task, and the response bias observed during the divided attention task. These results indicate that a more liberal response bias under signal detection (i.e., a higher tolerance for noise, resulting in a greater proportion of false alarms) is associated with higher "loss aversion." Furthermore, our functional model suggests a mechanism for processing constraints with divided attention and reward/aversion. Together, our results argue for a systematic relationship between divided attention and reward/aversion processing in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number122
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - Feb 21 2017


  • Attention
  • Iterative modeling
  • Neuroeconomics
  • Psychophysics
  • Relative preference
  • Reward
  • Signal detection theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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