No effect of monetary reward in a visual working memory task

Ronald van den Berg, Qijia Zou, Yuhang Li, Wei Ji Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous work has shown that humans distribute their visual working memory (VWM) resources flexibly across items: the higher the importance of an item, the better it is remembered. A related, but much less studied question is whether people also have control over the total amount of VWM resource allocated to a task. Here, we approach this question by testing whether increasing monetary incentives results in better overall VWM performance. In three experiments, subjects performed a delayed-estimation task on the Amazon Turk platform. In the first two experiments, four groups of subjects received a bonus payment based on their performance, with the maximum bonus ranging from $0 to $10 between groups. We found no effect of the amount of bonus on intrinsic motivation or on VWM performance in either experiment. In the third experiment, reward was manipulated on a trial-by-trial basis using a within-subjects design. Again, no evidence was found that VWM performance depended on the magnitude of potential reward. These results suggest that encoding quality in visual working memory is insensitive to monetary reward, which has implications for resource-rational theories of VWM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0280257
JournalPloS one
Issue number1 January
StatePublished - Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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