Motivational influences on perception

People tend to believe their perceptions are veridical representations of the world, but desires can bias what they see or hear. I manipulated the percept participants wanted to see as they performed a visual categorization task for reward (Leong et al., under review). Even though the reward maximizing strategy was to perform the task accurately, this manipulation biased participants’ perceptual judgments. Motivationally biased judgments were associated with activity in a frontoparietal network. Using a drift diffusion model, I decomposed the motivational bias into response and perceptual components. Response bias was associated with anticipatory activity in the nucleus accumbens, whereas perceptual bias tracked category-selective neural activity in the visual cortex. These results highlight the role of the reward circuitry in biasing the top-down control of sensory processing, and provide a computational description of how it can lead to inaccurate representations of the world.