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With an eye on uncertainty: Modelling pupillary responses to environmental volatility

Vincent, P; Parr, T; Benrimoh, D; Friston, KJ; (2019) With an eye on uncertainty: Modelling pupillary responses to environmental volatility. PLoS Computational Biology , 15 (7) , Article e1007126. 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007126. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

Living creatures must accurately infer the nature of their environments. They do this despite being confronted by stochastic and context sensitive contingencies-and so must constantly update their beliefs regarding their uncertainty about what might come next. In this work, we examine how we deal with uncertainty that evolves over time. This prospective uncertainty (or imprecision) is referred to as volatility and has previously been linked to noradrenergic signals that originate in the locus coeruleus. Using pupillary dilatation as a measure of central noradrenergic signalling, we tested the hypothesis that changes in pupil diameter reflect inferences humans make about environmental volatility. To do so, we collected pupillometry data from participants presented with a stream of numbers. We generated these numbers from a process with varying degrees of volatility. By measuring pupillary dilatation in response to these stimuli-and simulating the inferences made by an ideal Bayesian observer of the same stimuli-we demonstrate that humans update their beliefs about environmental contingencies in a Bayes optimal way. We show this by comparing general linear (convolution) models that formalised competing hypotheses about the causes of pupillary changes. We found greater evidence for models that included Bayes optimal estimates of volatility than those without. We additionally explore the interaction between different causes of pupil dilation and suggest a quantitative approach to characterising a person's prior beliefs about volatility.

Type: Article
Title: With an eye on uncertainty: Modelling pupillary responses to environmental volatility
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007126
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007126
Language: English
Additional information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Imaging Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10077786
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