Context and crowding in perceptual learning on a peripheral contrast discrimination task: context-specificity in contrast learning

Nisha S Yeotikar, Sieu K Khuu, Lisa J Asper, Catherine M Suttle
PloS One 2013, 8 (5): e63278
Perceptual learning is an improvement in sensitivity due to practice on a sensory task and is generally specific to the trained stimuli and/or tasks. The present study investigated the effect of stimulus configuration and crowding on perceptual learning in contrast discrimination in peripheral vision, and the effect of perceptual training on crowding in this task. 29 normally-sighted observers were trained to discriminate Gabor stimuli presented at 9° eccentricity with either identical or orthogonally oriented flankers with respect to the target (ISO and CROSS, respectively), or on an isolated target (CONTROL). Contrast discrimination thresholds were measured at various eccentricities and target-flanker separations before and after training in order to determine any learning transfer to untrained stimulus parameters. Perceptual learning was observed in all three training stimuli; however, greater improvement was obtained with training on ISO-oriented stimuli compared to CROSS-oriented and unflanked stimuli. This learning did not transfer to untrained stimulus configurations, eccentricities or target-flanker separations. A characteristic crowding effect was observed increasing with viewing eccentricity and decreasing with target-flanker separation before and after training in both configurations. The magnitude of crowding was reduced only at the trained eccentricity and target-flanker separation; therefore, learning for contrast discrimination and for crowding in the present study was configuration and location specific. Our findings suggest that stimulus configuration plays an important role in the magnitude of perceptual learning in contrast discrimination and suggest context-specificity in learning.

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