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J Vis. 2009 Mar 5;9(3):1.1-13. doi: 10.1167/9.3.1.

Task precision at transfer determines specificity of perceptual learning.

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Memory Attention Perception (MAP) Laboratory, Department of Cognitive Sciences, UC Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-5100, USA.


Perceptual learning, the improvement in performance with practice, reflects plasticity in the adult visual system. We challenge a standard claim that specificity of perceptual learning depends on task difficulty during training, instead showing that specificity, or conversely transfer, is primarily controlled by the precision demands (i.e., orientation difference) of the transfer task. Thus, for an orientation discrimination task, transfer of performance improvement is observed in low-precision transfer tasks, while specificity of performance improvement is observed in high-precision transfer tasks, regardless of the precision of initial training. The nature of specificity places important constraints on mechanisms of transfer in visual learning. These results contribute to understanding generalization of practiced improvements that may be key to the development of expertise and for applications in remediation.

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