Monetary incentives enhance processing in brain regions mediating top-down control of attention.
To evaluate the effect of an abstract motivational incentive on top-down mechanisms of visual spatial attention, 10 subjects engaged in a target detection task and responded to targets preceded by spatially valid (predictive), invalid (misleading) or neutral central cues under three different incentive conditions: win money (WIN), lose money (LOSE), and neutral (neither gain nor lose). Activation in the posterior cingulate cortex was correlated with visual spatial expectancy, defined as the degree to which the valid cue benefited performance as evidenced by faster reaction times compared to non-directional cues. Winning and losing money enhanced this relationship via overlapping but independent limbic mechanisms. In addition, activity in the inferior parietal lobule was correlated with disengagement (the degree to which invalid cues diminished performance). This relationship was also enhanced by monetary incentives. Finally, incentive enhanced the relationship of activation in the visual cortex to visual spatial expectancy and disengagement for both types of incentive (WIN and LOSE). These results show that abstract incentives enhance neural processing within the attention network in a process- and valence-selective manner. They also show that different cognitive and motivational mechanisms may produce a common effect upon unimodal cortices in order to enhance processing to serve the current behavioral goal.