Rational regulation of learning dynamics by pupil-linked arousal systems

Nat Neurosci. 2012 Jun 3;15(7):1040-6. doi: 10.1038/nn.3130.


The ability to make inferences about the current state of a dynamic process requires ongoing assessments of the stability and reliability of data generated by that process. We found that these assessments, as defined by a normative model, were reflected in nonluminance-mediated changes in pupil diameter of human subjects performing a predictive-inference task. Brief changes in pupil diameter reflected assessed instabilities in a process that generated noisy data. Baseline pupil diameter reflected the reliability with which recent data indicate the current state of the data-generating process and individual differences in expectations about the rate of instabilities. Together these pupil metrics predicted the influence of new data on subsequent inferences. Moreover, a task- and luminance-independent manipulation of pupil diameter predictably altered the influence of new data. Thus, pupil-linked arousal systems can help to regulate the influence of incoming data on existing beliefs in a dynamic environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Pupil / physiology*
  • Young Adult