Pupil size as a gateway into conscious interpretation of brightness

Irene Sperandio, Nikki Bond, Paola Binda

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Although retinal illumination is the main determinant of pupil size, evidence indicates that extra-retinal factors, including attention and contextual information, also modulate the pupillary response. For example, stimuli that evoke the idea of brightness (e.g., pictures of the sun) induce pupillary constriction compared to control stimuli of matched luminance. Is conscious appraisal of these stimuli necessary for the pupillary constriction to occur? Participants' pupil diameter was recorded while sun pictures and their phase-scrambled versions were shown to the left eye. A stream of Mondrian patterns was displayed to the right eye to produce continuous flash suppression, which rendered the left-eye stimuli invisible on some trials. Results revealed that when participants were aware of the sun pictures their pupils constricted relative to the control stimuli. This was not the case when the pictures were successfully suppressed from awareness, demonstrating that pupil size is highly sensitive to the contents of consciousness.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1070
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2018


  • pupillometry
  • pupillary constriction
  • high-level visual processing
  • visual awareness
  • brightness

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