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Andrey R. Nikolaev, Sergei Gepshtein, Cees van Leeuwen; Intermittent regime of brain activity at the early, bias-guided stage of perceptual learning. Journal of Vision 2016;16(14):11. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/16.14.11.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Perceptual learning improves visual performance. Among the plausible mechanisms of learning, reduction of perceptual bias has been studied the least. Perceptual bias may compensate for lack of stimulus information, but excessive reliance on bias diminishes visual discriminability. We investigated the time course of bias in a perceptual grouping task and studied the associated cortical dynamics in spontaneous and evoked EEG. Participants reported the perceived orientation of dot groupings in ambiguous dot lattices. Performance improved over a 1-hr period as indicated by the proportion of trials in which participants preferred dot groupings favored by dot proximity. The proximity-based responses were compromised by perceptual bias: Vertical groupings were sometimes preferred to horizontal ones, independent of dot proximity. In the evoked EEG activity, greater amplitude of the N1 component for horizontal than vertical responses indicated that the bias was most prominent in conditions of reduced visual discriminability. The prominence of bias decreased in the course of the experiment. Although the bias was still prominent, prestimulus activity was characterized by an intermittent regime of alternating modes of low and high alpha power. Responses were more biased in the former mode, indicating that perceptual bias was deployed actively to compensate for stimulus uncertainty. Thus, early stages of perceptual learning were characterized by episodes of greater reliance on prior visual preferences, alternating with episodes of receptivity to stimulus information. In the course of learning, the former episodes disappeared, and biases reappeared only infrequently.
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