The broad aim of our proposed research is to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of perceptual learning (PL) in normal and compromised visual systems that could potentially benefit from effective perceptual learning paradigms. We will identify the mechanisms underlying the losses and to what extent perceptual learning can ameliorate these losses. In addition, by identifying the underlying mechanisms of PL we anticipate being able to explain the large individual differences commonly found in PL studies.
Aim 1) The role of context in the generalization of perceptual learning. It is generally thought that PL does not transfer across tasks. However, we show examples using Double Training where learning does generalize. We will characterize the conditions for transfer and use advanced psychophysical methods to reveal the underlying mechanisms. In the test-pedestal method, the threshold for detecting the same test stimulus is measured in different contexts. Just by changing the context the task changes, yet the ideal observer would use the same template for each task. We hypothesize that perceptual learning in one context will not completely transfer to the related tasks. The methods will enable us to follow the development of the template during learning and what happens when the task changes even though the ideal template remains the same.
Aim 2) The generalization of perceptual learning over space. The belief that PL involves modification of early visual areas is based on earlier findings that it does not transfer across retinal locations. However, our double training method does result in transfer of learning across locations, including locations that have not received any prior training. This new perspective on PL points to a crucial role for higher brain areas that engage attention and decision-making. Our preliminary studies have revealed a piggyback effect whereby promoter stimuli enable the transfer of learning of a second feature. We hypothesize the distinction of promoter is related to eye movements and global vs. local processing. Our methods enable measuring the perceptual template and its stability, provide estimates of internal noise and evaluate the role of response bias in PL. These methods are the most powerful to date to elucidate the processes associated with PL.
Aim 3) Applying perceptual learning to improve visual function in people with compromised vision. Declining visual performance with age is well documented. Not surprising is the growing interest in new methods of enhancing visual function. It is reasonable to assume that training protocols can be enhanced by PL advances. By understanding the fundamental mechanisms of perceptual learning, future perceptual learning paradigms will be all the more effective in improving the quality of life of individuals with perceptual deficits, such as the elderly and persons with amblyopia. Individual differences on PL tasks are large and we have only speculative understanding of their source. Our new methods will enable us to identify the mechanisms that most account for the individual differences to provide guides for improving training methods.

Public Health Relevance

Perceptual learning is an important way to enhance visual function in the elderly, amblyopia, and observers with normal vision. By understanding mechanisms of perceptual learning, future paradigms will be all the more effective in improving the quality of life for individuals with perceptual deficits.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Central Visual Processing Study Section (CVP)
Program Officer
Steinmetz, Michael A
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Berkeley
Schools of Optometry/Ophthalmol
United States
Zip Code
Wang, Rui; Zhang, Jun-Yun; Klein, Stanley A et al. (2014) Vernier perceptual learning transfers to completely untrained retinal locations after double training: a ""piggybacking"" effect. J Vis 14:12
Zhang, Jun-Yun; Cong, Lin-Juan; Klein, Stanley A et al. (2014) Perceptual learning improves adult amblyopic vision through rule-based cognitive compensation. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 55:2020-30
Ding, Jian; Klein, Stanley A; Levi, Dennis M (2013) Binocular combination in abnormal binocular vision. J Vis 13:14
Ding, Jian; Klein, Stanley A; Levi, Dennis M (2013) Binocular combination of phase and contrast explained by a gain-control and gain-enhancement model. J Vis 13:13
Pack, Weston; Carney, Thom; Klein, Stanley A (2013) Involuntary attention enhances identification accuracy for unmasked low contrast letters using non-predictive peripheral cues. Vision Res 89:79-89
Dandekar, Sangita; Privitera, Claudio; Carney, Thom et al. (2012) Neural saccadic response estimation during natural viewing. J Neurophysiol 107:1776-90
Dandekar, Sangita; Ding, Jian; Privitera, Claudio et al. (2012) The fixation and saccade P3. PLoS One 7:e48761
Wang, Rui; Zhang, Jun-Yun; Klein, Stanley A et al. (2012) Task relevancy and demand modulate double-training enabled transfer of perceptual learning. Vision Res 61:33-8
Levi, Dennis M; Carney, Thom (2011) The effect of flankers on three tasks in central, peripheral, and amblyopic vision. J Vis 11:10
Levi, Dennis M; Carney, Thom (2009) Crowding in peripheral vision: why bigger is better. Curr Biol 19:1988-93

Showing the most recent 10 out of 82 publications