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J Vis. 2006 May 12;6(5):661-70.

Hastening orientation sensitivity.

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Department of Psychology, Denison University, Granville, OH 43023, USA.


Previous perceptual learning studies have shown that sensitivity to subtle orientation differences improves with practice at oblique axes but not with practice at cardinal axes. The cause of this anisotropy in angular resolution is uncertain, and it is not known whether the same anisotropy pertains to temporal resolution-the minimum stimulus duration needed to achieve a specified angular resolution. Here, we investigated the hypothesis that cardinal improvements were previously absent because long stimulus durations yielded maximal precision, even at the start of training. Accordingly, we exploited the relatively imprecise responses that occur naturally when masked stimuli are presented for extremely brief durations. After 110,000 trials were completed over seven daily sessions, temporal resolution improved by 51% at cardinal axes and by 86% at oblique axes. This hastening of the visual response was accompanied by significant improvements in angular resolution, which were specific to the trained axis. The data demonstrate plasticity in the response to cardinal orientations and indicate that sufficient initial levels of neural imprecision may be necessary for perceptual learning.

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