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Brett C. Bays, Kristina M. Visscher, Christophe C. Le Dantec, Aaron R. Seitz; Alpha-band EEG activity in perceptual learning. Journal of Vision 2015;15(10):7. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.10.7.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
In studies of perceptual learning (PL), subjects are typically highly trained across many sessions to achieve perceptual benefits on the stimuli in those tasks. There is currently significant debate regarding what sources of brain plasticity underlie these PL-based learning improvements. Here we investigate the hypothesis that PL, among other mechanisms, leads to task automaticity, especially in the presence of the trained stimuli. To investigate this hypothesis, we trained participants for eight sessions to find an oriented target in a field of near-oriented distractors and examined alpha-band activity, which modulates with attention to visual stimuli, as a possible measure of automaticity. Alpha-band activity was acquired via electroencephalogram (EEG), before and after training, as participants performed the task with trained and untrained stimuli. Results show that participants underwent significant learning in this task (as assessed by threshold, accuracy, and reaction time improvements) and that alpha power increased during the pre-stimulus period and then underwent greater desynchronization at the time of stimulus presentation following training. However, these changes in alpha-band activity were not specific to the trained stimuli, with similar patterns of posttraining alpha power for trained and untrained stimuli. These data are consistent with the view that participants were more efficient at focusing resources at the time of stimulus presentation and are consistent with a greater automaticity of task performance. These findings have implications for PL, as transfer effects from trained to untrained stimuli may partially depend on differential effort of the individual at the time of stimulus processing.
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