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PLoS One. 2010 Mar 23;5(3):e9816. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009816.

Motivation and intelligence drive auditory perceptual learning.

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Medical Research Council Institute of Hearing Research, Nottingham, United Kingdom.



Although feedback on performance is generally thought to promote perceptual learning, the role and necessity of feedback remain unclear. We investigated the effect of providing varying amounts of positive feedback while listeners attempted to discriminate between three identical tones on learning frequency discrimination.


Using this novel procedure, the feedback was meaningless and random in relation to the listeners' responses, but the amount of feedback provided (or lack thereof) affected learning. We found that a group of listeners who received positive feedback on 10% of the trials improved their performance on the task (learned), while other groups provided either with excess (90%) or with no feedback did not learn. Superimposed on these group data, however, individual listeners showed other systematic changes of performance. In particular, those with lower non-verbal IQ who trained in the no feedback condition performed more poorly after training.


This pattern of results cannot be accounted for by learning models that ascribe an external teacher role to feedback. We suggest, instead, that feedback is used to monitor performance on the task in relation to its perceived difficulty, and that listeners who learn without the benefit of feedback are adept at self-monitoring of performance, a trait that also supports better performance on non-verbal IQ tests. These results show that 'perceptual' learning is strongly influenced by top-down processes of motivation and intelligence.

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