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J Vis. 2015 Feb 2;15(2):1. doi: 10.1167/15.2.1.

Spatial attention increases the pupillary response to light changes.

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University of Washington, Department of Psychology, Seattle, WA, USA University of Pisa, Department of Translational Research on New Technologies in Medicine and Surgery, Pisa, Italy.
University of Washington, Department of Psychology, Seattle, WA, USA.


We measured pupil size in adult human subjects while we manipulated both the luminance of the visual scene and the location of attention. We found that, with central fixation maintained, pupillary constrictions and dilations evoked by peripheral luminance increments and decrements are larger when spatial attention is covertly (i.e., with no eye movements) directed to the stimulus region versus when it is directed to the opposite hemifield. Irrespective of the size of the attended region (focused at the center of the stimulus or spread within and outside the stimulus), the attentional enhancement is large: more than 20% of the response to stimuli in the unattended hemifield. This indicates that a sizable portion of this simple ocular behavior—often considered a subcortical "reflex"—in fact depends on cortical processing. Together, these features indicate that pupillometry is not only an index of retinal and brainstem function, but also an objective measure of complex constructs such as attention and its effects on sensory processing.


attention; attentional enhancement; pupillary light response

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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