Can Theories of Animal Discrimination Explain Perceptual Learning in Humans?
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We present a review of recent studies of perceptual learning conducted with nonhuman animals. The focus of this research has been to elucidate the mechanisms by which mere exposure to a pair of similar stimuli can increase the ease with which those stimuli are discriminated. These studies establish an important role for 2 mechanisms, one involving inhibitory associations between the unique features of the stimuli, the other involving a long-term habituation process that enhances the relative salience of these features. We then examine recent work investigating equivalent perceptual learning procedures with human participants. Our aim is to determine the extent to which the phenomena exhibited by people are susceptible to explanation in terms of the mechanisms revealed by the animal studies. Although we find no evidence that associative inhibition contributes to the perceptual learning effect in humans, initial detection of unique features (those that allow discrimination between 2 similar stimuli) appears to depend on an habituation process. Once the unique features have been detected, a tendency to attend to those features and to learn about their properties enhances subsequent discrimination. We conclude that the effects obtained with humans engage mechanisms additional to those seen in animals but argue that, for the most part, these have their basis in learning processes that are common to animals and people. In a final section, we discuss some implications of this analysis of perceptual learning for other aspects of experimental psychology and consider some potential applications. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
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