Pupil dilation reflects the time course of emotion recognition in human vocalizations

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The processing of emotional signals usually causes an increase in pupil size, and this effect has been largely attributed to autonomic arousal prompted by the stimuli. Additionally, changes in pupil size were associated with decision making during non-emotional perceptual tasks. Therefore, in this study we investigated the relationship between pupil size fluctuations and the process of emotion recognition. Participants heard human nonverbal vocalizations (e.g., laughing, crying) and indicated the emotional state of the speakers as soon as they had identified it. The results showed that during emotion recognition, the time course of pupil response was driven by the decision-making process. In particular, peak pupil dilation betrayed the time of emotional selection. In addition, pupil response revealed properties of the decisions, such as the perceived emotional valence and the confidence in the assessment. Because pupil dilation (under isoluminance conditions) is almost exclusively promoted by norepinephrine (NE) release from the locus coeruleus (LC), the results suggest an important role of the LC-NE system during emotion processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4871
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)


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