In the attention schema theory, the brain constructs a model of attention, the attention schema, to aid in the endogenous control of attention. Growing behavioral evidence appears to support this proposal. However, a central question remains: does a controller of attention actually benefit by having access to an attention schema? We constructed an artificial, deep Q-learning, neural network agent that was trained to control a simple form of visuospatial attention, tracking a stimulus with its attention spotlight in order to solve a catch task. The agent was tested with and without access to an attention schema. In both conditions, the agent received sufficient information such that it should, theoretically, be able to learn the task. We found that with an attention schema present, the agent learned to control its attention spotlight and learned the catch task to a high degree of performance. Once the agent learned, if the attention schema was disabled, the agent could no longer perform effectively. If the attention schema was removed before learning began, the agent was drastically impaired at learning. The results show how the presence of even a simple attention schema provides a profound benefit to a controller of attention. We interpret these results as supporting the central argument of AST: the brain evolved an attention schema because of its practical benefit in the endogenous control of attention.
Cara L. Buck; Jonathan D. Cohen; Field, Brent; Daniel Kahneman; Samuel M. McClure; Leigh E. Nystrom
Studies of subjective well-being have conventionally relied upon self-report, which directs subjects’ attention to their emotional experiences. This method presumes that attention itself does not influence emotional processes, which could bias sampling. We tested whether attention influences experienced utility (the moment-by-moment experience of pleasure) by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the activity of brain systems thought to represent hedonic value while manipulating attentional load. Subjects received appetitive or aversive solutions orally while alternatively executing a low or high attentional load task. Brain regions associated with hedonic processing, including the ventral striatum, showed a response to both juice and quinine. This response decreased during the high-load task relative to the low-load task. Thus, attentional allocation may influence experienced utility by modulating (either directly or indirectly) the activity of brain mechanisms thought to represent hedonic value.