Human performance on various visual tasks can be improved substantially via training. However, the enhancements are frequently specific to relatively low-level stimulus dimensions. While such specificity has often been thought to be indicative of a low-level neural locus of learning, recent research suggests that these same effects can be accounted for by changes in higher-level areas-in particular in the way higher-level areas read out information from lower-level areas in the service of highly practiced decisions. Here we contrast the degree of orientation transfer seen after training on two different tasks - vernier acuity and stereoacuity. Importantly, while the decision rule that could improve vernier acuity (i.e. a discriminant in the image plane) would not be transferable across orientations, the simplest rule that could be learned to solve the stereoacuity task (i.e. a discriminant in the depth plane) would be insensitive to changes in orientation. Thus, given a read-out hypothesis, more substantial transfer would be expected as a result of stereoacuity than vernier acuity training. To test this prediction, participants were trained (7500 total trials) on either a stereoacuity (N = 9) or vernier acuity (N = 7) task with the stimuli in either a vertical or horizontal configuration (balanced across participants). Following training, transfer to the untrained orientation was assessed. As predicted, evidence for relatively orientation specific learning was observed in vernier trained participants, while no evidence of specificity was observed in stereo trained participants. These results build upon the emerging view that perceptual learning (even very specific learning effects) may reflect changes in inferences made by high-level areas, rather than necessarily fully reflecting changes in the receptive field properties of low-level areas.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)