The Frequency of Rapid Pupil Dilations as a Measure of Linguistic Processing Difficulty.

PLoS ONE. 2016;11(1):e0146194 DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0146194

 

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Journal Title: PLoS ONE

ISSN: 1932-6203 (Online)

Publisher: Public Library of Science (PLoS)

LCC Subject Category: Medicine | Science

Country of publisher: United States

Language of fulltext: English

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AUTHORS

Vera Demberg
Asad Sayeed

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Time From Submission to Publication: 24 weeks

 

Abstract | Full Text

While it has long been known that the pupil reacts to cognitive load, pupil size has received little attention in cognitive research because of its long latency and the difficulty of separating effects of cognitive load from the light reflex or effects due to eye movements. A novel measure, the Index of Cognitive Activity (ICA), relates cognitive effort to the frequency of small rapid dilations of the pupil. We report here on a total of seven experiments which test whether the ICA reliably indexes linguistically induced cognitive load: three experiments in reading (a manipulation of grammatical gender match/mismatch, an experiment of semantic fit, and an experiment comparing locally ambiguous subject versus object relative clauses, all in German), three dual-task experiments with simultaneous driving and spoken language comprehension (using the same manipulations as in the single-task reading experiments), and a visual world experiment comparing the processing of causal versus concessive discourse markers. These experiments are the first to investigate the effect and time course of the ICA in language processing. All of our experiments support the idea that the ICA indexes linguistic processing difficulty. The effects of our linguistic manipulations on the ICA are consistent for reading and auditory presentation. Furthermore, our experiments show that the ICA allows for usage within a multi-task paradigm. Its robustness with respect to eye movements means that it is a valid measure of processing difficulty for usage within the visual world paradigm, which will allow researchers to assess both visual attention and processing difficulty at the same time, using an eye-tracker. We argue that the ICA is indicative of activity in the locus caeruleus area of the brain stem, which has recently also been linked to P600 effects observed in psycholinguistic EEG experiments.