Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 74, Issue 4, pp 754-765

First online:

Pupil-BLAH-metry: Cognitive effort in speech planning reflected by pupil dilation

  • Megan H. PapeshAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Arizona State University
  • , Stephen D. GoldingerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Arizona State University Email author 


In reading research, a longstanding question is whether any stages of lexical processing require central attention, and whether such potential demands are frequency-sensitive. In the present study, we examined the allocation of cognitive effort in lexical processing by examining pupil dilations and naming latencies in a modified delayed naming procedure. In this dual-task/change procedure, participants read words and waited for various delays before being signaled to issue a response. On most trials (80%), participants issued a standard naming response. On the remaining trials, they were cued to abandon the original speech plan, saying “blah” instead, thereby equating production across different words. Using feature-matched low- and high-frequency words, we observed the differences in pupil dilations as a function of word frequency. Indeed, frequency-sensitive cognitive demands were seen in word processing, even after naming responses were issued. The results suggest that word perception and/or speech planning requires the frequency-sensitive allocation of cognitive resources.


Word recognition Cognitive control Automaticity Attention