Neural α Oscillations and Pupil Size Differentially Index Cognitive Demand under Competing Audiovisual Task Conditions

Frauke Kraus*, Sarah Tune, Jonas Obleser, Björn Herrmann*

*Corresponding author for this work
3 Citations (Scopus)


Cognitive demand is thought to modulate two often used, but rarely combined, measures: pupil size and neural α (8–12 Hz) oscillatory power. However, it is unclear whether these two measures capture cognitive demand in a similar way under complex audiovisual-task conditions. Here we recorded pupil size and neural α power (using electroencephalography), while human participants of both sexes concurrently performed a visual multiple object-tracking task and an auditory gap detection task. Difficulties of the two tasks were manipulated independent of each other. Participants’ performance decreased in accuracy and speed with increasing cognitive demand. Pupil size increased with increasing difficulty for both the auditory and the visual task. In contrast, α power showed diverging neural dynamics: parietal α power decreased with increasing difficulty in the visual task, but not with increasing difficulty in the auditory task. Furthermore, independent of task difficulty, within-participant trial-by-trial fluctuations in pupil size were negatively correlated with α power. Difficulty-induced changes in pupil size and α power, however, did not correlate, which is consistent with their different cognitive-demand sensitivities. Overall, the current study demonstrates that the dynamics of the neurophysiological indices of cognitive demand and associated effort are multifaceted and potentially modality-dependent under complex audiovisual-task conditions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number23
Pages (from-to)4352-4364
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 07.06.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)

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