Perceptual learning as a potential treatment for amblyopia: a mini-review

Vision Res. 2009 Oct;49(21):2535-49. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2009.02.010. Epub 2009 Feb 27.


Amblyopia is a developmental abnormality that results from physiological alterations in the visual cortex and impairs form vision. It is a consequence of abnormal binocular visual experience during the "sensitive period" early in life. While amblyopia can often be reversed when treated early, conventional treatment is generally not undertaken in older children and adults. A number of studies over the last twelve years or so suggest that Perceptual Learning (PL) may provide an important new method for treating amblyopia. The aim of this mini-review is to provide a critical review and "meta-analysis" of perceptual learning in adults and children with amblyopia, with a view to extracting principles that might make PL more effective and efficient. Specifically we evaluate: 1). What factors influence the outcome of perceptual learning? 2). Specificity and generalization - two sides of the coin. 3). Do the improvements last? 4). How does PL improve visual function? 5). Should PL be part of the treatment armamentarium? A review of the extant studies makes it clear that practicing a visual task results in a long-lasting improvement in performance in an amblyopic eye. The improvement is generally strongest for the trained eye, task, stimulus and orientation, but appears to have a broader spatial frequency bandwidth than in normal vision. Importantly, practicing on a variety of different tasks and stimuli seems to transfer to improved visual acuity. Perceptual learning operates via a reduction of internal neural noise and/or through more efficient use of the stimulus information by retuning the weighting of the information. The success of PL raises the question of whether it should become a standard part of the armamentarium for the clinical treatment of amblyopia, and suggests several important principles for effective perceptual learning in amblyopia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amblyopia / physiopathology
  • Amblyopia / psychology
  • Amblyopia / therapy*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Psychophysics
  • Recovery of Function / physiology
  • Sensory Deprivation
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult