Orienting of attention, pupil size, and the norepinephrine system

Shai Gabay, Yoni Pertzov, Avishai Henik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations

Abstract

This research examined a novel suggestion regarding the involvement of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system in orienting reflexive (exogenous) attention. A common procedure for studying exogenous orienting of attention is Posner's cuing task. Importantly, one can manipulate the required level of target processing by changing task requirements, which, in turn, can elicit a different time course of inhibition of return (IOR). An easy task (responding to target location) produces earlier onset IOR, whereas a demanding task (responding to target identity) produces later onset IOR. Aston-Jones and Cohen (Annual Review of Neuroscience, 28, 403-450, 2005) presented a theory suggesting two different modes of LC activity: tonic and phasic. Accordingly, we suggest that in the more demanding task, the LC-NE system is activated in phasic mode, and in the easier task, it is activated in tonic mode. This, in turn, influences the appearance of IOR. We examined this suggestion by measuring participants' pupil size, which has been demonstrated to correlate with the LC-NE system, while they performed cuing tasks. We found a response-locked phasic dilation of the pupil in the discrimination task, as compared with the localization task, which may reflect different firing modes of the LC-NE system during the two tasks. We also demonstrated a correlation between pupil size at the time of cue presentation and magnitude of IOR.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-129
Number of pages7
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Volume73
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • IOR
  • LC-NE
  • Pupil size
  • Spatial attention

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