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Brightness perception changes related to pupil size

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  • Unni Sulutvedt, University of Oslo
  • ,
  • Daniele Zavagno, University of Milano Bicocca
  • ,
  • Jamie Lubell
  • Siri Leknes, University of Oslo
  • ,
  • Sigrid A de Rodez Benavent, Oslo University Hospital, University of Oslo
  • ,
  • Bruno Laeng, University of Oslo

Dilating the pupils allow more quanta of light to impact the retina. Consequently, if one pupil is dilated with a pharmacological agent (Tropicamide), the brightness of a surface under observation should increase proportionally to the pupil dilation. Little is known about causal effects of changes in pupil size on perception of an object's brightness. In a psychophysical procedure of brightness adjustment and matching, we presented to one eye geometrical patterns with a central square (the reference pattern) that differed in physical brightness within backgrounds of constant luminance. Subsequently, with the other eye, participants (n = 30) adjusted to the same luminance a similar pattern (target) whose central square luminance was randomly set higher or lower in brightness than the reference. As only one eye was treated with Tropicamide, we assessed whether the subjective brightness of the target square shifted in a consistent direction when viewed with the dilated pupil compared to the untreated (control) eye. We found that, as the pupil increased post drug administration, so significantly did the sense of brightness of the pattern (i.e., higher brightness adjustments followed viewing the reference pattern with the treated (Tropicamide) eye). A reversed effect was observed when the control eye viewed the reference pattern first. The results confirm that even slight pupil dilations can result in an enhanced perceptual experience of brightness of the attended object, corresponding to an average increase of 2.09 cd/m2 for each 1 mm increase in pupil diameter.

Original languageEnglish
JournalVision Research
Pages (from-to)41-47
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

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