Perceptual Learning With Indiscriminable Stimuli

Perceptual learning is learning to perceive. For example, in a bisection task three parallel lines are presented. The central line is slightly offset towards the right or the left outer line. Observers indicate the offset direction. Training greatly improves performance. In models of perceptual learning, learning occurs by synaptic changes determined by the learning algorithm and the stimulus presentation. None of the models can learn when the very same stimulus is presented during training. Here we show that, surprisingly, humans can improve performance in such "impossible" conditions. We trained observers with a line bisection task where the central line was always exactly in the middle, i.e., the stimulus was the same in all 4160 trials. Participants were not told about the zero offset and were instructed to indicate the offset direction as in a normal bisection task. Surprisingly, performance improved with gains similar to "normal" bisection experiments where both the left and right offset are presented. These results cannot be explained by most of current models of perceptual learning and reproduce previous studies in the auditory domain (Amitay, Irwin & Moore 2006). We suggest that learning occurs by mental imagery in accordance with previous results (Tartaglia, Bamert, Mast & Herzog, 2009, 2012).


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