Safe and sensible preprocessing and baseline correction of pupil-size data


  • Mathot Sebastiaan
  • Fabius Jasper
  • van Heusden Elle
  • Stigchel Stefan

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Measurement of pupil size (pupillometry) has recently gained renewed interest from psychologists, but there is little agreement on how pupil-size data is best analyzed. Here we focus on one aspect of pupillometric analyses: baseline correction, i.e., analyzing changes in pupil size relative to a baseline period. Baseline correction is useful in experiments that investigate the effect of some experimental manipulation on pupil size. In such experiments, baseline correction improves statistical power by taking into account random fluctuations in pupil size over time. However, we show that baseline correction can also distort data if unrealistically small pupil sizes are recorded during the baseline period, which can easily occur due to eye blinks, data loss, or other distortions. Divisive baseline correction (corrected pupil size = pupil size/baseline) is affected more strongly by such distortions than subtractive baseline correction (corrected pupil size = pupil size - baseline). We discuss the role of baseline correction as a part of preprocessing of pupillometric data, and make five recommendations: (1) before baseline correction, perform data preprocessing to mark missing and invalid data, but assume that some distortions will remain in the data; (2) use subtractive baseline correction; (3) visually compare your corrected and uncorrected data; (4) be wary of pupil-size effects that emerge faster than the latency of the pupillary response allows (within +/- 220 ms after the manipulation that induces the effect); and (5) remove trials on which baseline pupil size is unrealistically small (indicative of blinks and other distortions).

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