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Category-Induced Transfer of Visual Perceptual Learning

Qingleng Tan, Zhiyan Wang, Yuka Sasaki, Takeo Watanabe
Current Biology: CB 2019 March 18
Visual perceptual learning (VPL) refers to a long-term enhancement of visual task performance as a result of visual experience [1-6]. VPL is generally specific for the trained visual feature, meaning that training on a feature leads to performance enhancement only on the feature and those in its close vicinity. In the meantime, visual perception is often categorical [7-10]. This may partially be because the ecological importance of a stimulus is usually determined by the category to which the stimulus belongs (e.g., snake, lightning, and fish) [11]. Thus, it would be advantageous to an observer if encountering or working on a feature from a category increases sensitivity to features under the same category. However, studies of VPL have used uncategorized features. Here, we found a category-induced transfer of VPL, where VPL of an orientation transferred to untrained orientations within the same category as the trained orientation, but not orientations from the different category. Furthermore, we found that, although category learning transferred to other locations in the visual field, the category-induced transfer of VPL occurred only when visual stimuli for the category learning and those for VPL training were presented at the same location. These results altogether suggest that feature specificity in VPL is greatly influenced by cognitive processing, such as categorization in a top-down fashion. In an environment where features are categorically organized, VPL may be more generalized across features under the same category. Such generalization implies that VPL is of more ecological significance than has been thought.


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