Spectral signature and behavioral consequence of spontaneous shifts of pupil-linked arousal in human

Ella Podvalny, Leana E. King, Biyu J. He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Arousal levels perpetually rise and fall spontaneously. How markers of arousal—pupil size and frequency content of brain activity—relate to each other and influence behavior in humans is poorly understood. We simultaneously monitored magnetoencephalography and pupil in healthy volunteers at rest and during a visual perceptual decision-making task. Spontaneously varying pupil size correlates with power of brain activity in most frequency bands across large-scale resting-state cortical networks. Pupil size recorded at prestimulus baseline correlates with subsequent shifts in detection bias (c) and sensitivity (d’). When dissociated from pupil-linked state, prestimulus spectral power of resting state networks still predicts perceptual behavior. Fast spontaneous pupil constriction and dilation correlate with large-scale brain activity as well but not perceptual behavior. Our results illuminate the relation between central and peripheral arousal markers and their respective roles in human perceptual decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere68265
StatePublished - 31 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, eLife Sciences Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.


We thank Navin Kariyawasam for help with literature review. This research was supported by an NSF CAREER Award (grant ID: BCS-1753218; to B.J.H.).

FundersFunder number
National Science FoundationBCS-1753218


    • Electrophysiological arousal
    • Perceptual decision-making
    • Pupil-linked arousal
    • Signal detection theory
    • Spontaneous activity


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