Estimation of Mental Effort in Learning Visual Search by Measuring Pupil Response
Perceptual learning refers to the improvement of perceptual sensitivity and performance with training. In this study, we examined whether learning is accompanied by a release from mental effort on the task, leading to automatization of the learned task. For this purpose, we had subjects conduct a visual search for a target, defined by a combination of orientation and spatial frequency, while we monitored their pupil size. It is well known that pupil size reflects the strength of mental effort invested in a task. We found that pupil size increased rapidly as the learning proceeded in the early phase of training and decreased at the later phase to a level half of its maximum value. This result does not support the simple automatization hypothesis. Instead, it suggests that the mental effort and behavioral performance reflect different aspects of perceptual learning. Further, mental effort would be continued to be invested to maintain good performance at a later stage of training.