Target detection increases pupil diameter and enhances memory for background scenes during multi-tasking

Khena M. Swallow, Yuhong V. Jiang, Elizabeth B. Riley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Attending to targets in a detection task can facilitate memory for concurrently presented information, a phenomenon known as the attentional boost effect. One account of the attentional boost suggests that it reflects the temporal selection of behaviorally relevant moments, broadly facilitating the processing of information encountered at these times. Because pupil diameter increases when orienting to behaviorally relevant events and is positively correlated with increases in gain and activity in the locus coeruleus (a purported neurophysiological mechanism for temporal selection), we tested whether the attentional boost effect is accompanied by an increase in pupil diameter. Participants memorized a series of individually presented scenes. Whenever a scene appeared, a high or low pitched tone was played, and participants counted (and later reported) the number of tones in the pre-specified, target pitch. Target detection enhanced later memory for concurrently presented scenes. It was accompanied by a larger pupil response than was distractor rejection, and this effect was more pronounced for subsequently remembered rather than forgotten scenes. Thus, conditions that produce the attentional boost effect may also elicit phasic changes in neural gain and locus coeruleus activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5255
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Gail Rosenbaum and Heather Sigstad for their help with data collection. This research was funded in part by ARO 60343-LS-II. We also thank Lynn Johnson of the Cornell Statistical Consulting Service for her advice on data analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).


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