Eyes wide open: Pupil size as a proxy for inhibition in the masked-priming paradigm

Abstract

A core assumption underlying competitive-network models of word recognition is that in order for a word to be recognized, the representations of competing orthographically similar words must be inhibited. This inhibitory mechanism is revealed in the masked-priming lexical-decision task (LDT) when responses to orthographically similar word prime-target pairs are slower than orthographically different word prime-target pairs (i.e., inhibitory priming). In English, however, behavioral evidence for inhibitory priming has been mixed. In the present study, we utilized a physiological correlate of cognitive effort never before used in the masked-priming LDT, pupil size, to replicate and extend behavioral demonstrations of inhibitory effects (i.e., Nakayama, Sears,& Lupker, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 34, 1236-1260, 2008, Exp. 1). Previous research had suggested that pupil size is a reliable indicator of cognitive load, making it a promising index of lexical inhibition. Our pupillometric data replicated and extended previous behavioral findings, in that inhibition was obtained for orthographically similar word prime-target pairs. However, our response time data provided only a partial replication of Nakayama et al. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 34, 1236-1260, 2008. These results provide converging lines of evidence that inhibition operates in word recognition and that pupillometry is a useful addition to word recognition researchers’ toolbox.

Publication
In Memory & Cognition