You are currently viewing New study & video out: Pupil size and intelligence

New study & video out: Pupil size and intelligence

Also, the front page is now updated and runs in Django. This is much easier to manage than the old PHP site, but the front page currently redirects to the IP of the Django server, since it was difficult to figure out how to display it correctly. I didn’t see any breaks from this change, but it may look odd in your browser. Anyway, let’s get to the topic:


A recent study by Tsukahara et al. (2016) found correlations between pupil size and measures of intelligence, with r values around .30. We attempted to replicate this association in a large dataset of US military personnel (n = 4,462). General intelligence, g, was extracted from 19 diverse tests. We first confirmed that right and left eye pupil size measures are strongly correlated (r = .97), suggesting high measurement reliability for this phenotype. However, unlike Tsukuhara et al., we could establish only small to nonexistent associations between cognitive ability and pupil size (r’s-.01 to .06, r with g specifically = .05). Regression analyses, controlling for multiple covariates, revealed that the association in this large representative sample was entirely attributable to confounding with race/ethnicity. Mean pupil size (mm) was 3.56, 3.35, and 3.23 for whites, Hispanics, and blacks, respectively. Relative to whites, this corresponds to effect sizes of 0.22 and 0.34 d. It is unclear why our results differ from those reported by Tsukahara et al. (2016), but the ethnic size rank order suggests an evolutionary explanation in terms of geo-bio-climatic selection for pupil size.

Keywords: Intelligence, Cognitive ability, Pupil size, Pupil diameter, Evolution, Replication

So, it’s a straightforward replication of that prior study that made a bit of splash finding fairly sizable associations between pupil size and intelligence. We, in contrast, find nothing but a race confound. Scatterplots:

Regression models:

Equipment used, the Optec 2000:

Video presentation