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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Feb 12;105(6):2248-53. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0711878105. Epub 2008 Feb 4.

Perceptual learning depends on perceptual constancy.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, PA 19131, USA.


Perceptual learning refers to experience-induced improvements in the pick-up of information. Perceptual constancy describes the fact that, despite variable sensory input, perceptual representations typically correspond to stable properties of objects. Here, we show evidence of a strong link between perceptual learning and perceptual constancy: Perceptual learning depends on constancy-based perceptual representations. Perceptual learning may involve changes in early sensory analyzers, but such changes may in general be constrained by categorical distinctions among the high-level perceptual representations to which they contribute. Using established relations of perceptual constancy and sensory inputs, we tested the ability to discover regularities in tasks that dissociated perceptual and sensory invariants. We found that human subjects could learn to classify based on a perceptual invariant that depended on an underlying sensory invariant but could not learn the identical sensory invariant when it did not correlate with a perceptual invariant. These results suggest that constancy-based representations, known to be important for thought and action, also guide learning and plasticity.

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