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Beyond eye gaze: What else can eyetracking reveal about cognition and cognitive development?

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This review provides an introduction to two eyetracking measures that can be used to study cognitive development and plasticity: pupil dilation and spontaneous blink rate. We begin by outlining the rich history of gaze analysis, which can reveal the current focus of attention as well as cognitive strategies. We then turn to the two lesser-utilized ocular measures. Pupil dilation is modulated by the brain's locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system, which controls physiological arousal and attention, and has been used as a measure of subjective task difficulty, mental effort, and neural gain. Spontaneous eyeblink rate correlates with levels of dopamine in the central nervous system, and can reveal processes underlying learning and goal-directed behavior. Taken together, gaze, pupil dilation, and blink rate are three non-invasive and complementary measures of cognition with high temporal resolution and well-understood neural foundations. Here we review the neural foundations of pupil dilation and blink rate, provide examples of their usage, describe analytic methods and methodological considerations, and discuss their potential for research on learning, cognitive development, and plasticity.

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