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J Vis. 2004 Mar 17;4(3):169-82.

Perceptual learning in contrast discrimination and the (minimal) role of context.

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School of Optometry, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.


Unlike most visual tasks, contrast discrimination has been reported to be unchanged by practice (Dorais & Sagi, 1997; Adini, Sagi, & Tsodyks, 2002), unless practice is undertaken in the presence of flankers (context-enabled learning, Adini et al., 2002). Here we show that under experimental conditions nearly identical to those in the no-flanker practice experiment of Adini et al. (2002), practice significantly improved contrast discrimination. Moreover, in a separate experiment, we found that practice without flankers can improve contrast discrimination to a level only reached with flankers in Adini et al. (2002), but further practice with flankers produces no further improvement of contrast discrimination. These results call into question whether the "context-enabled learning" proposed by Adini et al. (2002) is different from regular contrast learning without flankers. In separate experiments, we found that contrast learning is tuned to spatial frequency, orientation, retinal location, and, unexpectedly, contrast. We also replicated Sagi, Adini, Tsodyks, and Wilkonsky's (2003) more recent finding that no regular contrast learning occurs if reference contrasts are randomly interleaved (contrast roving), and further demonstrated that flankers have no effect on contrast learning under contrast roving, another piece of evidence equating "context-enabled learning" to regular contrast learning. The contrast specificity of learning and the lack of learning under contrast roving provide new evidence in favor of a multiple contrast-selective channels model of contrast discrimination, and against saturating transducer models and multiplicative noise models.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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