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Roger Strong, George Alvarez; Multiple-object tracking training benefits display incomplete transfer across motion type and retinotopic location.. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1136. doi: 10.1167/15.12.1136.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Numerous “brain-training” companies have developed training paradigms for improving high-level attentional mechanisms, with the goal of extending performance gains from trained tasks to general cognitive functioning. For training benefits to transfer from trained to untrained tasks, the untrained tasks must utilize neural mechanisms modified during completion of the trained tasks (Ahissar & Hochstein, 2004). We examined whether training-induced benefits for multiple-object tracking (MOT), a task likely limited by high-level attentional processes (Cavanagh & Alvarez, 2005), generalize across different motion types (linear-moving dots vs. radially-spinning pinwheels) or different retinotopic locations (e.g., top-left vs. bottom-left visual quadrant). After obtaining baseline MOT speed thresholds for both motion types in two retinotopic locations, participants (N=16) completed six days of training on the dot-tracking task in one retinotopic location. Post-training speed thresholds for both motion types in both retinotopic locations were obtained in a final assessment and compared to baseline speeds. Despite shared high-level attentional mechanisms between tasks, training benefits failed to generalize completely from the trained MOT task (e.g., dots in the upper-left visual quadrant) to untrained MOT tasks, including 1) the trained MOT motion type in an untrained retinotopic location (t(15)=2.7, p=.017), 2) the untrained MOT motion type in the trained retinotopic location (t(15)=3.3, p=.005), and 3) the untrained MOT motion type in an untrained retinotopic location (t(15)=4.2, p=.001). Training on the pinwheel task (N=12, separate observers) resulted in the same magnitude of benefits for the trained task and the same pattern of results as training on the dot task. Thus, although attentional tracking is equally trainable for attending to linear-moving dots and radially-spinning pinwheels, improvements do not transfer completely between tasks or retinotopic locations. Combined, these results suggest that, rather than strictly improving general attentional mechanisms, training on attention-limited tasks alters the way such mechanisms select information from task-specific, low-level sensory areas.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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