Effort during visual search and counting: insights from pupillometry

G Porter, T Troscianko, ID Gilchrist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

144 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated the processing effort during visual search and counting tasks using a pupil dilation measure. Search difficulty was manipulated by varying the number of distractors as well as the heterogeneity of the distractors. More difficult visual search resulted in more pupil dilation than did less difficult search. These results confirm a link between effort and increased pupil dilation. The pupil dilated more during the counting task than during target-absent search, even though the displays were identical, and the two tasks were matched for reaction time. The moment-to-moment dilation pattern during search suggests little effort in the early stages, but increasingly more effort towards response, whereas the counting task involved an increased initial effort, which was sustained throughout the trial. These patterns can be interpreted in terms of the differential memory load for item locations in each task. In an additional experiment, increasing the spatial memory requirements of the search evoked a corresponding increase in pupil dilation. These results support the view that search tasks involve some, but limited, memory for item locations, and the effort associated with this memory load increases during the trials. In contrast, counting involves a heavy locational memory component from the start.
Translated title of the contributionEffort during visual search and counting: insights from pupillometry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211 - 229
Number of pages19
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007

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