The time course of learning a visual skill

Nature. 1993 Sep 16;365(6443):250-2. doi: 10.1038/365250a0.


Several examples of experience-dependent perceptual improvement (perceptual learning) suggest that plasticity in specific neuronal loci could underlie the learning process. For a basic visual discrimination task (using an optimal stimulus for 'automatic' pre-attentive texture segregation), discrete retinal input-dependent changes within a very early stage in the stream of visual processing were indicated as the locus of a large and consistent learning effect. When do these changes occur? Here we report that except for a fast, rapidly saturating improvement early in the first practice session, performance was very stable within sessions. Indeed, observers showed little or no improvement until up to 8 hours after their last training session (latent phase). But large improvements occurred thereafter. Finally, there was almost no forgetting; what was gained was retained for at least 2-3 years. We conjecture that some types of perceptual experience trigger permanent neural changes in early processing stages of the adult visual system. These may take many hours to become functional.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology*