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Nat Commun. 2017 Mar 3;8:14637. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14637.

Pupil-linked arousal is driven by decision uncertainty and alters serial choice bias.

Author information

Department of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg 20246, Germany.
Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1018 WT, The Netherlands.
Amsterdam Brain and Cognition (ABC), University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1018 WT, The Netherlands.


While judging their sensory environments, decision-makers seem to use the uncertainty about their choices to guide adjustments of their subsequent behaviour. One possible source of these behavioural adjustments is arousal: decision uncertainty might drive the brain's arousal systems, which control global brain state and might thereby shape subsequent decision-making. Here, we measure pupil diameter, a proxy for central arousal state, in human observers performing a perceptual choice task of varying difficulty. Pupil dilation, after choice but before external feedback, reflects three hallmark signatures of decision uncertainty derived from a computational model. This increase in pupil-linked arousal boosts observers' tendency to alternate their choice on the subsequent trial. We conclude that decision uncertainty drives rapid changes in pupil-linked arousal state, which shape the serial correlation structure of ongoing choice behaviour.

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