Perceptual learning reconfigures the effects of visual adaptation
McGovern, David P. and Roach, Neil W. and Webb, Ben S. (2012) Perceptual learning reconfigures the effects of visual adaptation. Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (39). pp. 13621-13629. ISSN 1529-2401
Our sensory experiences over a range of different timescales shape our perception of the environment. Two particularly striking short-term forms of plasticity with manifestly different time courses and perceptual consequences are those caused by visual adaptation and perceptual learning. Although conventionally treated as distinct forms of experience-dependent plasticity, their neural mechanisms and perceptual consequences have become increasingly blurred, raising the possibility that they might interact. To optimize our chances of finding a functionally meaningful interaction between learning and adaptation, we examined in humans the perceptual consequences of learning a fine discrimination task while adapting the neurons that carry most information for performing this task. Learning improved discriminative accuracy to a level that ultimately surpassed that in an unadapted state. This remarkable improvement came at a price: adapting directions that before learning had little effect elevated discrimination thresholds afterward. The improvements in discriminative accuracy grew quickly and surpassed unadapted levels within the first few training sessions, whereas the deterioration in discriminative accuracy had a different time course. This learned reconfiguration of adapted discriminative accuracy occurred without a concomitant change to the characteristic perceptual biases induced by adaptation, suggesting that the system was still in an adapted state. Our results point to a functionally meaningful push–pull interaction between learning and adaptation in which a gain in sensitivity in one adapted state is balanced by a loss of sensitivity in other adapted states.
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