Two visual targets for the price of one? Pupil dilation shows reduced mental effort through temporal integration
In dynamic sensory environments, successive stimuli may be combined perceptually and represented as a single, comprehensive event by means of temporal integration. Such perceptual segmentation across time is intuitively plausible. However, the possible costs and benefits of temporal integration in perception remain underspecified. In the present study pupil dilation was analyzed as a measure of mental effort. Observers viewed either one or two successive targets amidst distractors in rapid serial visual presentation, which they were asked to identify. Pupil dilation was examined dependent on participants’ report: dilation associated with the report of a single target, of two targets, and of an integrated percept consisting of the features of both targets. There was a clear distinction between dilation observed for single-target reports and integrations on the one side, and two-target reports on the other. Regardless of report order, two-target reports produced increased pupil dilation, reflecting increased mental effort. The results thus suggested that temporal integration reduces mental effort and may thereby facilitate perceptual processing.