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Curr Biol. 2008 Dec 23;18(24):1922-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.030. Epub 2008 Dec 8.

Complete transfer of perceptual learning across retinal locations enabled by double training.

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State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China.


Practice improves discrimination of many basic visual features, such as contrast, orientation, and positional offset. Perceptual learning of many of these tasks is found to be retinal location specific, in that learning transfers little to an untrained retinal location. In most perceptual learning models, this location specificity is interpreted as a pointer to a retinotopic early visual cortical locus of learning. Alternatively, an untested hypothesis is that learning could occur in a central site, but it consists of two separate aspects: learning to discriminate a specific stimulus feature ("feature learning"), and learning to deal with stimulus-nonspecific factors like local noise at the stimulus location ("location learning"). Therefore, learning is not transferable to a new location that has never been location trained. To test this hypothesis, we developed a novel double-training paradigm that employed conventional feature training (e.g., contrast) at one location, and additional training with an irrelevant feature/task (e.g., orientation) at a second location, either simultaneously or at a different time. Our results showed that this additional location training enabled a complete transfer of feature learning (e.g., contrast) to the second location. This finding challenges location specificity and its inferred cortical retinotopy as central concepts to many perceptual-learning models and suggests that perceptual learning involves higher nonretinotopic brain areas that enable location transfer.

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