The pupillary light response reveals the focus of covert visual attention

Abstract : The pupillary light response is often assumed to be a reflex that is not susceptible to cognitive influences. In line with recent converging evidence, we show that this reflexive view is incomplete, and that the pupillary light response is modulated by covert visual attention: Covertly attending to a bright area causes a pupillary constriction, relative to attending to a dark area under identical visual input. This attention-related modulation of the pupillary light response predicts cuing effects in behavior, and can be used as an index of how strongly participants attend to a particular location. Therefore, we suggest that pupil size may offer a new way to continuously track the focus of covert visual attention, without requiring a manual response from the participant. The theoretical implication of this finding is that the pupillary light response is neither fully reflexive, nor under complete voluntary control, but is instead best characterized as a stereotyped response to a voluntarily selected target. In this sense, the pupillary light response is similar to saccadic and smooth pursuit eye movements. Together, eye movements and the pupillary light response maximize visual acuity, stabilize visual input, and selectively filter visual information as it enters the eye.
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Sebastiaan Mathôt, Lotje van der Linden, Jonathan Grainger, Françoise Vitu. The pupillary light response reveals the focus of covert visual attention. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2013, 8 (10), pp.e78168. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0078168⟩. ⟨hal-00932068⟩

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