Psychological Research

, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 13–25 | Cite as

Interactions between incentive valence and action information in a cued approach–avoidance task

  • Vincent HoofsEmail author
  • Thomas Carsten
  • C. Nico Boehler
  • Ruth M. Krebs
Original Article


Environmental stimuli can provoke specific response tendencies depending on their incentive valence. While some studies report positive-approach and negative-avoidance biases, others find no such mappings. To further illuminate the relationship between incentive valence and action requirement, we combined a cued monetary incentive paradigm with an approach/avoidance joystick task. Incentive type was manipulated between groups: The reward group won money, while the punishment group avoided losing money for correct and fast responses to targets following incentive cues. Depending on their orientations, targets had to be ‘approached’ or ‘avoided’. Importantly, incentive valence (signaled by cue color) was orthogonal to action requirement (target orientation). Moreover, targets could carry valence-associated information or not (target color), which was, however, task-irrelevant. First, we observed that both valence cues (reward/punishment) improved performance compared to neutral cues, independent of the required action (approach/avoid), suggesting that advance valence cues do not necessarily produce specific action biases. Second, task-irrelevant valence associations with targets promoted action biases, with valence-associated targets facilitating approach and impairing avoid responses. Importantly, this approach bias for valence-associated targets was observed in both groups and hence occurred independently of absolute valence (‘unsigned’). This rather unexpected finding might be related to the absence of a direct contrast between positive valence and negative valence within groups and the common goal to respond fast and accurately in all incentive trials. Together, our results seem to challenge the notion that monetary incentives trigger ‘hard-wired’ valence–action biases in that specific design choices seem to modulate the presence and/or direction of valence–action biases.


Reward Punishment Valence Action Approach/avoidance Monetary incentive paradigm 



This study was supported by a starting Grant of the European Research Council (ERC) under the Horizon 2020 framework (Grant no. 636110 awarded to RMK).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Vincent Hoofs, Thomas Carsten, C. Nico Boehler, and Ruth M. Krebs declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Experimental PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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