The current study examined pupillary correlates of fluctuations and lapses of sustained attention. Participants performed a sustained attention task with either a varied ISI or a fixed ISI (fixed at 2 or 8 sec) while pupil responses were continuously recorded. The results indicated that performance was worse when the ISI was varied or fixed at 8 sec compared with when the ISI was fixed at 2 sec, suggesting that varied or long ISI conditions require greater intrinsic alertness compared with constant short ISIs. In terms of pupillary responses, the results demonstrated that slow responses (indicative of lapses) were associated with greater variability in tonic pupil diameter, smaller dilation responses during the ISI, and subsequently smaller dilation responses to stimulus onset. These results suggest that lapses of attention are associated with lower intrinsic alertness, resulting in a lowered intensity of attention to task-relevant stimuli. Following a lapse of attention, performance, tonic pupil diameter, and phasic pupillary responses, all increased, suggesting that attention was reoriented to the task. These results are consistent with the notion that pupillary responses track fluctuations in sustained attention.

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