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Perceptual learning and sensomotor flexibility: cortical plasticity under attentional control?

By Manfred Fahle


Recent research reveals long-lasting cortical plasticity of early sensory cortices even in adults. Sensory signals could be modified under top-down control if necessary quite early in order to optimize their signal-to-noise ratio, leading to ‘low level’ or ‘early’ perceptual learning (PL). For easy tasks, such elaborate top-down influences are usually not required, and learning is restricted to late selection of the appropriate signals on higher cortical levels, which seems easier and faster to achieve. But to reach the absolute limits of sensory performance, PL seems to optimize the entire chain of sensory processing. Hence, improvement for these extreme perceptual abilities is quite specific for a number of stimulus parameters, such as the position in the visual field and sometimes even the trained eye, reflecting the specificity of receptive fields in early sensory cortices. Early PL may be just one example—even if a very extensive one—of the mechanisms of neuronal plasticity and sensomotor flexibility that are constantly updating our sensomotor representations as a result of experience. As an illustration, this review contains some new experimental results on PL and sensory flexibility in the context of adaptation to multifocal intraocular lenses

Topics: Review
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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