Pupil size reveals preparatory processes in the generation of pro-saccades and anti-saccades

Chin An Wang, Donald C. Brien, Douglas P. Munoz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


The ability to generate flexible behaviors to accommodate changing goals in response to identical sensory stimuli is a signature that is inherited in humans and higher-level animals. In the oculomotor system, this function has often been examined with the anti-saccade task, in which subjects are instructed, prior to stimulus appearance, to either automatically look at the peripheral stimulus (pro-saccade) or to suppress the automatic response and voluntarily look in the opposite direction from the stimulus (anti-saccade). Distinct neural preparatory activity between the pro-saccade and anti-saccade conditions has been well documented, particularly in the superior colliculus (SC) and the frontal eye field (FEF), and this has shown higher inhibition-related fixation activity in preparation for anti-saccades than in preparation for pro-saccades. Moreover, the level of preparatory activity related to motor preparation is negatively correlated with reaction times. We hypothesised that preparatory signals may be reflected in pupil size through a link between the SC and the pupil control circuitry. Here, we examined human pupil dynamics during saccade preparation prior to the execution of pro-saccades and anti-saccades. Pupil size was larger in preparation for correct anti-saccades than in preparation for correct pro-saccades and erroneous pro-saccades made in the anti-saccade condition. Furthermore, larger pupil dilation prior to stimulus appearance accompanied saccades with faster reaction times, with a trial-by-trial correlation between dilation size and anti-saccade reaction times. Overall, our results demonstrate that pupil size is modulated by saccade preparation, and neural activity in the SC, together with the FEF, supports these findings, providing unique insights into the neural substrate coordinating cognitive processing and pupil diameter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1102-1110
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Executive function
  • Frontal eye field
  • Preparatory set
  • Pupil dilation
  • Superior colliculus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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