The reverse hierarchy theory of visual perceptual learning

Trends Cogn Sci. 2004 Oct;8(10):457-64. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.08.011.


Perceptual learning can be defined as practice-induced improvement in the ability to perform specific perceptual tasks. We previously proposed the Reverse Hierarchy Theory as a unifying concept that links behavioral findings of visual learning with physiological and anatomical data. Essentially, it asserts that learning is a top-down guided process, which begins at high-level areas of the visual system, and when these do not suffice, progresses backwards to the input levels, which have a better signal-to-noise ratio. This simple concept has proved powerful in explaining a broad range of findings, including seemingly contradicting data. We now extend this concept to describe the dynamics of skill acquisition and interpret recent behavioral and electrophysiological findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*