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Data from: Pupil diameter tracks lapses of attention

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van den Brink, Ruud L.; Murphy, Peter R.; Nieuwenhuis, Sander (2017). Data from: Pupil diameter tracks lapses of attention [Dataset]. Dryad.


Our ability to sustain attention for prolonged periods of time is limited. Studies on the relationship between lapses of attention and psychophysiological markers of attentional state, such as pupil diameter, have yielded contradicting results. Here, we investigated the relationship between tonic fluctuations in pupil diameter and performance on a demanding sustained attention task. We found robust linear relationships between baseline pupil diameter and several measures of task performance, suggesting that attentional lapses tended to occur when pupil diameter was small. However, these observations were primarily driven by the joint effects of time-on-task on baseline pupil diameter and task performance. The linear relationships disappeared when we statistically controlled for time-on-task effects and were replaced by consistent inverted U-shaped relationships between baseline pupil diameter and each of the task performance measures, such that most false alarms and the longest and most variable response times occurred when pupil diameter was both relatively small and large. Finally, we observed strong linear relationships between the temporal derivative of pupil diameter and task performance measures, which were largely independent of time-on-task. Our results help to reconcile contradicting findings in the literature on pupil-linked changes in attentional state, and are consistent with the adaptive gain theory of locus coeruleus-norepinephrine function. Moreover, they suggest that the derivative of baseline pupil diameter is a potentially useful psychophysiological marker that could be used in the on-line prediction and prevention of attentional lapses.

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