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Trends Cogn Sci. 2005 Jul;9(7):329-34.

A unified model for perceptual learning.

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Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Perceptual learning in adult humans and animals refers to improvements in sensory abilities after training. These improvements had been thought to occur only when attention is focused on the stimuli to be learned (task-relevant learning) but recent studies demonstrate performance improvements outside the focus of attention (task-irrelevant learning). Here, we propose a unified model that explains both task-relevant and task-irrelevant learning. The model suggests that long-term sensitivity enhancements to task-relevant or irrelevant stimuli occur as a result of timely interactions between diffused signals triggered by task performance and signals produced by stimulus presentation. The proposed mechanism uses multiple attentional and reinforcement systems that rely on different underlying neuromodulators. Our model provides insights into how neural modulators, attentional and reinforcement learning systems are related.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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