Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 232, Issue 1, pp 337–344 | Cite as

Eyes wide open: enhanced pupil dilation when selectively studying important information

  • Robert Ariel
  • Alan D. Castel
Research Article


Remembering important information is imperative for efficient memory performance, but it is unclear how we encode important information. The current experiment evaluated two non-exclusive hypotheses for how learners selectively encode important information at the expense of less important information (differential resource allocation and information reduction). To evaluate these hypotheses, we measured changes in learners’ pupil diameter and fixation durations while participants performed a selectivity task that involved studying lists consisting of words associated with different point values. Participants were instructed to maximize their score on a free recall task that they completed after studying each list. Participants’ pupils dilated more when studying high-valued than low-valued words, and these changes were associated with better memory for high-valued words. However, participants fixated equally on words regardless of their value, which is inconsistent with the information reduction hypothesis. Participants also increased their memory selectivity across lists, but changes in pupil diameter and differences in fixations could not account for this increased selectivity. The results suggest that learners allocate attention differently to items as a function of their value, and that multiple processes and operations contribute to value-directed remembering.


Selective encoding Pupil dilation Attention Value-directed remembering Metacognition 



This research was supported by a National Institute on Aging Ruth L. Kirschstein training grant (5T32AG000175-24). We thank John Dunlosky, Matthew Rhodes, and members of RADlab for their valuable comments and feedback on this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Georgia Institute of TechnologySchool of PsychologyAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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