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Vision Res. 2000;40(21):2925-49.

Perceptual learning in visual search generalizes over tasks, locations, and eyes.

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Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research, Deutschordenstr. 46, 60528, Frankfurt, Germany.


In a visual search task, targets containing elementary features are detected in parallel, while a serial search is necessary for the detection of a target without a feature, or for targets containing conjunctions of features. In this study, we re-investigated the role of practice in visual search tasks, using an uncued visual search paradigm. Under some circumstances, initially serial tasks can become parallel with practice. Perceptual learning of feature search tasks is rapid (a few hundreds of trials are sufficient to transform serial into parallel search), long-lasting (a learned task is retained over several months), but far less specific than learning of other visual tasks (see also Sireteanu & Rettenbach, 1995a [Vision Research, 35, 2037-2043]). Learning transfers from one task to another, from one location in the visual field to another, and between the two eyes of a given subject, even if the subject has reduced stereopsis. Search for a conjunction of orientation and colour becomes more efficient, suggesting that a different search strategy emerges after prolonged practice. These results suggest that learning of visual search tasks modifies neural structures located at a high level in the visual pathway, involving different, presumably more central neural circuits, than the learning of visual discriminations and hyperacuity.

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