• Bruno LaengEmail author
  • Dag Alnaes
Part of the Studies in Neuroscience, Psychology and Behavioral Economics book series (SNPBE)


The eye pupil is an organ optimally designed by evolution to control the amount of light entering the eye so as to obtain sharp visual images and allow monitoring of as much as possible of the visual field. The opposing pupillary movements of constrictions and dilations optimize some of these goals while at the same time may reduce the effectiveness of others. The pupils are controlled by subcortical anatomical structures of the brain that allow rapid adjustments of the pupil (in particular to strong light). However, higher-level cortical mechanisms in the brain can affect in a top-down manner pupil size, possibly to prepare the eye as for forthcoming visual events. Today it has become relatively easy and inexpensive to measure pupil size with current infrared eye-trackers. Yet, advancements in equipment and data analysis are still needed in order to apply pupillometry to situations outside the laboratory where luminance conditions cannot be controlled. Psychological studies have clearly implicated pupil responses as reliable indexes of motivational and emotional states. The most promising application of pupillometry stands in its ability to index robustly and reliably the level of cognitive workload or “mental effort” engaged during a task. Recent studies in neuroscience have clarified that the pupil reflects the activity of the Locus coeruleus, which is the brain’s hub of the norepinephrine system and whose activity has the effect of “energizing” the whole brain at a particular moment in time. Hence pupillary responses provide a window on attentional processes that are relevant for learning and memory.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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