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Sci Rep. 2018 Sep 12;8(1):13702. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-31985-3.

Task-evoked pupil responses reflect internal belief states.

Author information

1
Department of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.
2
Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
3
Department of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany. t.donner@uke.de.
4
Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. t.donner@uke.de.
5
Amsterdam Brain & Cognition, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. t.donner@uke.de.

Abstract

Perceptual decisions about the state of the environment are often made in the face of uncertain evidence. Internal uncertainty signals are considered important regulators of learning and decision-making. A growing body of work has implicated the brain's arousal systems in uncertainty signaling. Here, we found that two specific computational variables, postulated by recent theoretical work, evoke boosts of arousal at different times during a perceptual decision: decision confidence (the observer's internally estimated probability that a choice was correct given the evidence) before feedback, and prediction errors (deviations from expected reward) after feedback. We monitored pupil diameter, a peripheral marker of central arousal state, while subjects performed a challenging perceptual choice task with a delayed monetary reward. We quantified evoked pupil responses during decision formation and after reward-linked feedback. During both intervals, decision difficulty and accuracy had interacting effects on pupil responses. Pupil responses negatively scaled with decision confidence prior to feedback and scaled with uncertainty-dependent prediction errors after feedback. This pattern of pupil responses during both intervals was in line with a model using the observer's graded belief about choice accuracy to anticipate rewards and compute prediction errors. We conclude that pupil-linked arousal systems are modulated by internal belief states.

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