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J Vis. 2018 Jun 1;18(6):7. doi: 10.1167/18.6.7.

Assessing the relationship between pupil diameter and visuocortical activity.

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Center for the Study of Emotion & Attention, Department of Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA.


Visuocortical activity and pupil diameter both increase in tasks involving memory, attention, and physiological arousal. Thus, the question arises whether pupil dilation prompts a subsequent increase in visuocortical activity. In this study, we investigated the extent to which changes in visuocortical activity relate to changes in pupil diameter. The amplitude of the sustained visuocortical response to a flickering stimulus (i.e., steady-state visually evoked potential [ssVEP] power) was examined in 39 participants while pupil diameter was measured. To generalize across stimulus conditions, Gabor stimuli varied in brightness and ssVEP driving frequency. As expected, brighter stimuli prompted pupil constriction and larger ssVEP power. To determine whether momentary fluctuations in pupil size contribute to the ssVEP amplitude under conditions of constant luminance and frequency, the single-trial means from each measure were correlated and the shape of the pupil-diameter waveform related to the ssVEP amplitude time course, both within and between participants. Under constant conditions, changes in pupil diameter were not related to changes in ssVEP amplitude, at any luminance level or driving frequency. Findings suggest that pupil dilation does not systematically prompt subsequent changes in visuocortical activity, and thus is not a sufficient cause of visuocortical modulation in cognitive or affective tasks.

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