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Temporal Expectation Indexed by Pupillary Response

In: Timing & Time Perception
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  • 1 Department of Psychology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
  • | 2 Department of Psychology, Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey
  • | 3 Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
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Forming temporal expectations plays an instrumental role for the optimization of behavior and allocation of attentional resources. Although the effects of temporal expectations on visual attention are well-established, the question of whether temporal predictions modulate the behavioral outputs of the autonomic nervous system such as the pupillary response remains unanswered. Therefore, this study aimed to obtain an online measure of pupil size while human participants were asked to differentiate between visual targets presented after varying time intervals since trial onset. Specifically, we manipulated temporal predictability in the presentation of target stimuli consisting of letters which appeared after either a short or long delay duration (1.5 vs. 3 s) in the majority of trials (75%) within different test blocks. In the remaining trials (25%), no target stimulus was present to investigate the trajectory of preparatory pupillary response under a low level of temporal uncertainty. The results revealed that the rate of preparatory pupillary response was contingent upon the time of target appearance such that pupils dilated at a higher rate when the targets were expected to appear after a shorter as compared to a longer delay period irrespective of target presence. The finding that pupil size can track temporal regularities and exhibit differential preparatory response between different delay conditions points to the existence of a distributed neural network subserving temporal information processing which is crucial for cognitive functioning and goal-directed behavior.

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