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J Neurosci. 2013 Feb 13;33(7):2900-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4039-12.2013.

State-dependent perceptual learning.

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  • 1Bernstein Focus State Dependencies of Learning and Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Berlin, Germany.


Learning constitutes a fundamental property of the human brain-yet an unresolved puzzle is the profound variability of the learning success between individuals. Here we highlight the relevance of individual ongoing brain states as sources of the learning variability in exposure-based somatosensory perceptual learning. Electroencephalogram recordings of ongoing rhythmic brain activity before and during learning revealed that prelearning parietal alpha oscillations as well as during-learning stimulus-induced contralateral central alpha changes are predictive for the learning outcome. These two distinct alpha rhythm sources predicted up to 64% of the observed learning variability, one source representing an idling state with posteroparietal focus and a potential link to the default mode network, the other representing the sensorimotor mu rhythm, whose desynchronization is indicative for the degree of engagement of sensorimotor neuronal populations during application of the learning stimuli. Unspecific effects due to global shifts of attention or vigilance do not explain our observations. Our study thus suggests a brain state-dependency of perceptual learning success in humans opening new avenues for supportive learning tools in the clinical and educational realms.

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