Although previous research has characterized the important role for spatial and affective pre-cues in the control of visual attention, less is known about the impact of pre-cues on preference formation. In preference formation, the gaze cascade phenomenon suggests that the gaze serves both to enhance and express “liking” during value-based decision-making. This phenomenon has been interpreted as a type of Pavlovian approach toward preferred objects. Decision-making here reflects a process of gradual commitment in which the gaze functions as a precursor to choice; by this account, overt attention produces a necessarily positive, additive effect on the value of the attended object. The implication is that drawing attention to an object should initiate, and therefore promote, preference formation for that object. Alternatively, information-integration models of attention propose that attention produces a multiplicative effect on the value of the attended object, implying that negative information can impede preference formation. To pitch the gradual-commitment hypothesis against the information-integration hypothesis, we conducted four experiments that combined the spatial-cueing paradigm with a value-based choice paradigm. In each trial in all experiments, subjects were presented with an irrelevant, peripheral pre-cue for a duration of 500 ms, followed by a 500 ms blank, and then a pair of abstract images (one at the pre-cued position; one in the opposite hemifield). The subjects were asked to choose their preferred abstract image by pressing the corresponding button. We manipulated the type of pre-cues (images of faces versus foods; with varying affective associations) and the time constraints (a deadline of 1,500 ms versus self-paced). Overall, the choice data showed a clear pattern of influence from the pre-cues, such that, given a deadline, abstract images were chosen less often if they had been preceded by a pre-cue with a negative affective association (both for face and food images). Analyses of the gaze data showed the emergence of significant gaze biases in line with the subjects’ choices. Taken together, the data pattern provided support for the information-integration hypothesis, particularly under urgency. When tasked with a speeded preference choice, subjects showed affective disengagement following pre-cues that carried a negative association.
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