Decision-related pupil dilation reflects upcoming choice and individual bias.
ABSTRACT: A number of studies have shown that pupil size increases transiently during effortful decisions. These decision-related changes in pupil size are mediated by central neuromodulatory systems, which also influence the internal state of brain regions engaged in decision making. It has been proposed that pupil-linked neuromodulatory systems are activated by the termination of decision processes, and, consequently, that these systems primarily affect the postdecisional brain state. Here, we present pupil results that run contrary to this proposal, suggesting an important intradecisional role. We measured pupil size while subjects formed protracted decisions about the presence or absence ("yes" vs. "no") of a visual contrast signal embedded in dynamic noise. Linear systems analysis revealed that the pupil was significantly driven by a sustained input throughout the course of the decision formation. This sustained component was larger than the transient component during the final choice (indicated by button press). The overall amplitude of pupil dilation during decision formation was bigger before yes than no choices, irrespective of the physical presence of the target signal. Remarkably, the magnitude of this pupil choice effect (yes > no) reflected the individual criterion: it was strongest in conservative subjects choosing yes against their bias. We conclude that the central neuromodulatory systems controlling pupil size are continuously engaged during decision formation in a way that reveals how the upcoming choice relates to the decision maker's attitude. Changes in brain state seem to interact with biased decision making in the face of uncertainty.
Project description:Pupillometry, the measure of pupil size and reactivity, has been widely used to assess cognitive processes. Changes in pupil size have been shown to correlate with various behavioral states, both externally and internally induced such as locomotion, arousal, cortical state, and decision-making processes. Besides, these pupillary responses have also been linked to the activity of neuromodulatory systems that modulate attention and perception such as the noradrenergic and cholinergic systems. Due to the extent of processes the pupil reflects, we aimed at further resolving pupillary responses in the context of behavioral state and task performance while recording pupillary transients of mice performing a vibrotactile two-alternative forced-choice task (2-AFC). We show that before the presentation of task-relevant information, pre-stimulus, pupil size differentiates between states of disengagement from task performance vs. engagement. Also, when subjects have to attend to task stimuli to attain a reward, post-stimulus, pupillary dilations exhibit a difference between correct and error responses with this difference reflecting an internal decision variable. We hypothesize that this internal decision variable relates to response confidence, the internal perception of the confidence the subject has in its choice. As opposed to this, we show that in a condition of passive performance, when the stimulus has no more task relevance due to reward being provided automatically, pupillary dilations reflect the occurrence of stimulation and reward provision but not decisional variables as under active performance. Our results provide evidence that in addition to reflecting attentiveness under task performance rather than arousal per se, pupil dilations also reflect the confidence of the subject in his ensuing response. This confidence coding is overlaid within a more pronounced pupil dilation that reflects post-decision components that are related to the response itself but not to the decision. We also provide evidence as to how different behavioral states, imposed by task demands, modulate what the pupil is reflecting, presumably showing what the underlying cognitive network is coding for.
Project description:Decision-makers often arrive at different choices when faced with repeated presentations of the same evidence. Variability of behavior is commonly attributed to noise in the brain's decision-making machinery. We hypothesized that phasic responses of brainstem arousal systems are a significant source of this variability. We tracked pupil responses (a proxy of phasic arousal) during sensory-motor decisions in humans, across different sensory modalities and task protocols. Large pupil responses generally predicted a reduction in decision bias. Using fMRI, we showed that the pupil-linked bias reduction was (i) accompanied by a modulation of choice-encoding pattern signals in parietal and prefrontal cortex and (ii) predicted by phasic, pupil-linked responses of a number of neuromodulatory brainstem centers involved in the control of cortical arousal state, including the noradrenergic locus coeruleus. We conclude that phasic arousal suppresses decision bias on a trial-by-trial basis, thus accounting for a significant component of the variability of choice behavior.
Project description:While judging their sensory environments, decision-makers seem to use the uncertainty about their choices to guide adjustments of their subsequent behaviour. One possible source of these behavioural adjustments is arousal: decision uncertainty might drive the brain's arousal systems, which control global brain state and might thereby shape subsequent decision-making. Here, we measure pupil diameter, a proxy for central arousal state, in human observers performing a perceptual choice task of varying difficulty. Pupil dilation, after choice but before external feedback, reflects three hallmark signatures of decision uncertainty derived from a computational model. This increase in pupil-linked arousal boosts observers' tendency to alternate their choice on the subsequent trial. We conclude that decision uncertainty drives rapid changes in pupil-linked arousal state, which shape the serial correlation structure of ongoing choice behaviour.
Project description:Rapid variations in cortical state during wakefulness have a strong influence on neural and behavioural responses and are tightly coupled to changes in pupil size across species. However, the physiological processes linking cortical state and pupil variations are largely unknown. Here we demonstrate that these rapid variations, during both quiet waking and locomotion, are highly correlated with fluctuations in the activity of corticopetal noradrenergic and cholinergic projections. Rapid dilations of the pupil are tightly associated with phasic activity in noradrenergic axons, whereas longer-lasting dilations of the pupil, such as during locomotion, are accompanied by sustained activity in cholinergic axons. Thus, the pupil can be used to sensitively track the activity in multiple neuromodulatory transmitter systems as they control the state of the waking brain.
Project description:Perceptual decisions about the state of the environment are often made in the face of uncertain evidence. Internal uncertainty signals are considered important regulators of learning and decision-making. A growing body of work has implicated the brain's arousal systems in uncertainty signaling. Here, we found that two specific computational variables, postulated by recent theoretical work, evoke boosts of arousal at different times during a perceptual decision: decision confidence (the observer's internally estimated probability that a choice was correct given the evidence) before feedback, and prediction errors (deviations from expected reward) after feedback. We monitored pupil diameter, a peripheral marker of central arousal state, while subjects performed a challenging perceptual choice task with a delayed monetary reward. We quantified evoked pupil responses during decision formation and after reward-linked feedback. During both intervals, decision difficulty and accuracy had interacting effects on pupil responses. Pupil responses negatively scaled with decision confidence prior to feedback and scaled with uncertainty-dependent prediction errors after feedback. This pattern of pupil responses during both intervals was in line with a model using the observer's graded belief about choice accuracy to anticipate rewards and compute prediction errors. We conclude that pupil-linked arousal systems are modulated by internal belief states.
Project description:Humans and animals construct internal models of their environment in order to select appropriate courses of action. The representation of uncertainty about the current state of the environment is a key feature of these models that controls the rate of learning as well as directly affecting choice behaviour. To maintain flexibility, given that uncertainty naturally decreases over time, most theoretical inference models include a dedicated mechanism to drive up model uncertainty. Here we probe the long-standing hypothesis that noradrenaline is involved in determining the uncertainty, or entropy, and thus flexibility, of neural models. Pupil diameter, which indexes neuromodulatory state including noradrenaline release, predicted increases (but not decreases) in entropy in a neural state model encoded in human medial orbitofrontal cortex, as measured using multivariate functional MRI. Activity in anterior cingulate cortex predicted pupil diameter. These results provide evidence for top-down, neuromodulatory control of entropy in neural state models.
Project description:Decision making between several alternatives is thought to involve the gradual accumulation of evidence in favor of each available choice. This process is profoundly variable even for nominally identical stimuli, yet the neuro-cognitive substrates that determine the magnitude of this variability are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that arousal state is a powerful determinant of variability in perceptual decision making. We measured pupil size, a highly sensitive index of arousal, while human subjects performed a motion-discrimination task, and decomposed task behavior into latent decision making parameters using an established computational model of the decision process. In direct contrast to previous theoretical accounts specifying a role for arousal in several discrete aspects of decision making, we found that pupil diameter was uniquely related to a model parameter representing variability in the rate of decision evidence accumulation: Periods of increased pupil size, reflecting heightened arousal, were characterized by greater variability in accumulation rate. Pupil diameter also correlated trial-by-trial with specific patterns of behavior that collectively are diagnostic of changing accumulation rate variability, and explained substantial individual differences in this computational quantity. These findings provide a uniquely clear account of how arousal state impacts decision making, and may point to a relationship between pupil-linked neuromodulation and behavioral variability. They also pave the way for future studies aimed at augmenting the precision with which people make decisions.
Project description:Pupil dilation, an indicator of arousal that is generally regarded as unspecific, amongst others reflects decision formation and reveals choice. Employing letter selection in a Go/NoGo task, we show that choice can robustly be predicted by the pupillary signal, even under the presence of strong interfering factors such as changes in brightness or motor execution. In addition, a larger difference in pupil dilation between target and distractor conditions for NoGo compared to Go was demonstrated, underlining the particular appropriateness of the paradigm for decision research. Incorporating microsaccades, a variable that is suggested to covary with pupil diameter, we show that decision formation can only be observed in pupil diameter. However, microsaccade rate and pupil size covaried for motor execution and both reflected choice after key press with smaller effect size for microsaccade rate. We argue that combining pupil dilation and microsaccade rate may help dissociating decision-related changes in pupil diameter from interfering factors. Considering the interlinked main neural correlates of pupil dilation and microsaccade generation, these findings point to a selective role of locus coeruleus compared to superior colliculus in decision formation.
Project description:Changes in pupil diameter can reflect high-level cognitive signals that depend on central neuromodulatory mechanisms. However, brain mechanisms that adjust pupil size are also exquisitely sensitive to changes in luminance and other events that would be considered a nuisance in cognitive experiments recording pupil size. We implemented a simple auditory experiment involving no changes in visual stimulation. Using finite impulse-response fitting we found pupil responses triggered by different types of events. Among these are pupil responses to auditory events and associated surprise: cognitive effects. However, these cognitive responses were overshadowed by pupil responses associated with blinks and eye movements, both inevitable nuisance factors that lead to changes in effective luminance. Of note, these latter pupil responses were not recording artifacts caused by blinks and eye movements, but endogenous pupil responses that occurred in the wake of these events. Furthermore, we identified slow (tonic) changes in pupil size that differentially influenced faster (phasic) pupil responses. Fitting all pupil responses using gamma functions, we provide accurate characterisations of cognitive and non-cognitive response shapes, and quantify each response's dependence on tonic pupil size. These results allow us to create a set of recommendations for pupil size analysis in cognitive neuroscience, which we have implemented in freely available software.
Project description:Cognition can reveal itself in the pupil, as latent cognitive processes map onto specific pupil responses. For instance, the pupil dilates when we make decisions and these pupil size fluctuations reflect decision-making computations during and after a choice. Surprisingly little is known, however, about how pupil responses relate to decisions driven by the learned value of stimuli. This understanding is important, as most real-life decisions are guided by the outcomes of earlier choices. The goal of this study was to investigate which cognitive processes the pupil reflects during value-based decision-making. We used a reinforcement learning task to study pupil responses during value-based decisions and subsequent decision evaluations, employing computational modeling to quantitatively describe the underlying cognitive processes. We found that the pupil closely tracks reinforcement learning processes independently across participants and across trials. Prior to choice, the pupil dilated as a function of trial-by-trial fluctuations in value beliefs about the to-be chosen option and predicted an individual's tendency to exploit high value options. After feedback a biphasic pupil response was observed, the amplitude of which correlated with participants' learning rates. Furthermore, across trials, early feedback-related dilation scaled with value uncertainty, whereas later constriction scaled with signed reward prediction errors. These findings show that pupil size fluctuations can provide detailed information about the computations underlying value-based decisions and the subsequent updating of value beliefs. As these processes are affected in a host of psychiatric disorders, our results indicate that pupillometry can be used as an accessible tool to non-invasively study the processes underlying ongoing reinforcement learning in the clinic.