Keeping an eye on the truth? Pupil size changes associated with recognition memory

Becky Heaver, Sam B. Hutton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During recognition memory tests participants' pupils dilate more when they view old items compared to novel items. We sought to replicate this "pupil old/new effect" and to determine its relationship to participants' responses. We compared changes in pupil size during recognition when participants were given standard recognition memory instructions, instructions to feign amnesia, and instructions to report all items as new. Participants' pupils dilated more to old items compared to new items under all three instruction conditions. This finding suggests that the increase in pupil size that occurs when participants encounter previously studied items is not under conscious control. Given that pupil size can be reliably and simply measured, the pupil old/new effect may have potential in clinical settings as a means for determining whether patients are feigning memory loss.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398-405
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2011

Bibliographical note

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Memory, 19, 4, 2011, copyright Taylor & Francis, available online at:


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