New Light on the Mind's Eye: The Pupillary Light Response as Active Vision


  • Mathôt Sebastiaan
  • Stigchel Stefan

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The eye's pupils constrict (shrink) in brightness and dilate (expand) in darkness. The pupillary light response was historically considered a low-level reflex without any cognitive component. Here, we review recent studies that have dramatically changed this view: The light response depends not only on a stimulus's brightness but also on whether you are aware of the stimulus, whether you are paying attention to it, and even whether you are thinking about it. We highlight the link between the pupillary light response and eye-movement preparation: When you intend to look at a bright stimulus, a pupillary constriction is prepared along with the eye movement before the eyes set in motion. This preparation allows the pupil to rapidly change its size as your eyes move from bright to dark objects and back again. We discuss the implications of these recent advances for our understanding of the subtle yet important role that pupillary responses play in vision.

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