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Merav Ahissar; Visual and non-visual skill acquisition – success and failure. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):66. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.21.9.66.
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Acquiring expert skills requires years of experience – whether these skills are visual (e.g. face identification), motor (playing tennis) or cognitive (mastering chess). In 1977, Shiffrin & Schneider proposed an influential stimulus-driven, bottom-up theory of expertise automaticity, involving mapping stimuli to their consistent response. Integrating many studies since, I propose a general, top-down theory of skill acquisition. Novice performance is based on the high-level multiple-demand (Duncan, 2010) fronto-parietal system, and with practice, specific experiences are gradually represented in lower-level domain-specific temporal regions. This gradual process of learning-induced reverse-hierarchies is enabled by detection and integration of task-relevant regularities. Top-down driven learning allows formation of task-relevant mapping and representations. These in turn form a space which affords task-consistent interpolations (e.g. letters in a manner crucial for letter identification rather than visual similarity). These dynamics characterize successful skills. Some populations, however, have reduced sensitivity to task-related regularities, hindering their related skill acquisition, preventing specific expertise acquisition even after massive training. I propose that skill-acquisition failure, perceptual as cognitive, reflects specific difficulties in detecting and integrating task-relevant regularities, impeding formation of temporal-area expertise. Such is the case for individuals with dyslexia (reduced retention of temporal regularities; Jaff-Dax et al., 2017), who fail to form an expert visual word-form area, and for individuals with autism (who integrate regularities too slowly for online updating; Lieder et al., 2019). Based on this general conceptualization, I further propose that this systematic impediment.
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