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Poster D147 - Graduate Student Award Winner

Investigating the interplay between tonic and phasic pupillary activity and cognitive flexibility and stability

Poster Session D - Monday, April 15, 2024, 8:00 – 10:00 am EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Anna Mini Jos1 (, Andrew Westbrook2, Sophia LoParco1, Ross Otto1; 1McGill University, 2Rutgers University

The impact of locus coeruleus (LC) activity on task performance, as well as the concordance between LC firing modes and pupil diameter changes are well established. However, the direct influence of tonic-phasic pupillary activity, on cognitive control has not been systematically investigated. We examined these associations, specifically focusing on cognitive flexibility and cognitive stability. Participants completed a stability-flexibility task, with pupil recording. We measured flexibility based on response times on task-switch trials, and preference to switch tasks on ambiguous trials. Stability was measured by performance on repeat and distractor inhibition trials. These measures were modeled using pupillary phasic-tonic dilation, using bayesian multilevel analyses. We find a lower preference to voluntarily switch (lower flexibility preference) in individuals with higher switch costs (lower ability/effort exerted to be flexible), and individuals with shorter response times on distractor inhibition trials (higher stability). The latter finding indicates a possible tradeoff between the ability to be stable and preference to be flexible. A higher phasic pupil response in task switch trials was associated with lower switch costs, i.e., higher flexibility. We observed a lower preference to voluntarily switch (i.e., a lower flexibility preference) in individuals with higher average tonic activity, contrary to existing findings in the literature. Additionally, higher average tonic pupil predicted quicker errors on trials measuring cognitive stability. Overall, these findings provide evidence that pupillary phasic and tonic activity is associated with, and can index, cognitively stable and flexible performance.

Topic Area: THINKING: Decision making


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April 13–16  |  2024