August 2023
Volume 23, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2023
Leveraging the pupillary light reflex for cognitive pupillometry: An initial characterization of the PLR in two data sets
Author Affiliations
  • Russell Cohen Hoffing
    Army Research Laboratory
  • Steven Thurman
    Army Research Laboratory
  • Joseph Coyne
    Naval Research Laboratory
  • Ciara Sibley
    Naval Research Laboratory
  • Leah Enders
  • Heather Roy
    Army Research Laboratory
Journal of Vision August 2023, Vol.23, 5839. doi:
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      Russell Cohen Hoffing, Steven Thurman, Joseph Coyne, Ciara Sibley, Leah Enders, Heather Roy; Leveraging the pupillary light reflex for cognitive pupillometry: An initial characterization of the PLR in two data sets. Journal of Vision 2023;23(9):5839.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Cognitive pupillometry in the “wild” (outside laboratory control) faces the difficulty of low signal-to-noise due to relatively larger scale pupil size fluctuations induced by luminance variation. A proposed method to improve inference of cognitive processes in natural environments is to amplify the cognitive signal by methodologically controlling for, or statistically removing, the influence of the pupillary light reflex (PLR). Here we suggest an alternative method by purposefully inducing PLR’s and measuring variation in the shape of the PLR waveform to infer cognitive states. To explore this possibility, we induced the PLR in two different experiments while subjects performed a wide range of cognitive tasks. In one experiment participants navigated a stressful naturalistic virtual environment while searching for targets. During the experiment the screen flashed white to mimic a flashbang to induce a stress response and PLR. In the second experiment participants viewed simple flashing stimuli to induce the PLR before and after completing a battery of cognitive tests. First, our results show that aspects of the PLR vary over time and when concomitant with experimental manipulations of cognitive processes. Second, we demonstrate statistically significant and interesting relationships between aspects of the PLR (I.e., latency of the PLR, velocity and magnitude of the constriction) and behavioral performance. Together these results suggest that the PLR variation has the potential to be used reliably as a measure of cognitive processing and may be especially useful in naturalistic experimentation.


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