Pupil-BLAH-metry: Cognitive effort in speech planning reflected by pupil dilation

Megan H. Papesh, Stephen Goldinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


In reading research, a longstanding question is whether any stages of lexical processing require central attention, and whether such potential demands are frequency-sensitive. In the present study, we examined the allocation of cognitive effort in lexical processing by examining pupil dilations and naming latencies in a modified delayed naming procedure. In this dual-task/change procedure, participants read words and waited for various delays before being signaled to issue a response. On most trials (80%), participants issued a standard naming response. On the remaining trials, they were cued to abandon the original speech plan, saying "blah" instead, thereby equating production across different words. Using feature-matched low- and high-frequency words, we observed the differences in pupil dilations as a function of word frequency. Indeed, frequency-sensitive cognitive demands were seen in word processing, even after naming responses were issued. The results suggest that word perception and/or speech planning requires the frequency-sensitive allocation of cognitive resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)754-765
Number of pages12
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Attention
  • Automaticity
  • Cognitive control
  • Word recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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