Pupil Dilation Co-Varies with Memory Strength of Individual Traces in a Delayed Response Paired-Associate Task

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Abstract

Studies on cognitive effort have shown that pupil dilation is a reliable indicator of memory load. However, it is conceivable that there are other sources of effort involved in memory that also affect pupil dilation. One of these is the ease with which an item can be retrieved from memory. Here, we present the results of an experiment in which we studied the way in which pupil dilation acts as an online marker for memory processing during the retrieval of paired associates while reducing confounds associated with motor responses. Paired associates were categorized into sets containing either 4 or 7 items. After learning the paired associates once, pupil dilation was measured during the presentation of the retrieval cue during four repetitions of each set. Memory strength was operationalized as the number of repetitions (frequency) and set-size, since having more items per set results in a lower average recency. Dilation decreased with increased memory strength, supporting the hypothesis that the amplitude of the evoked pupillary response correlates positively with retrieval effort. Thus, while many studies have shown that “memory load” influences pupil dilation, our results indicate that the task-evoked pupillary response is also sensitive to the experimentally manipulated memory strength of individual items. As these effects were observed well before the response had been given, this study also suggests that pupil dilation can be used to assess an item’s memory strength without requiring an overt response.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere51134
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume7
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5-Dec-2012

Keywords

  • PICTURE-WORD INTERFERENCE
  • PUPILLOMETRIC ANALYSIS
  • RETRIEVAL EFFORT
  • LOAD
  • STIMULATION
  • ALLOCATION
  • DECISIONS
  • SELECTION
  • DYNAMICS
  • INSIGHTS

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