September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Mechanisms that stabilize visual perceptual learning differ in children and adults: Evidence from psychophysics and magnetic resonance spectroscopy
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Sebastian Frank
    Brown University
  • Markus Becker
    University of Regensburg
  • Andrea Qi
    Brown University
  • Patricia Geiger
    University of Regensburg
  • Ulrike Frank
    University of Regensburg
  • Yuka Sasaki
    Brown University
  • Mark Greenlee
    University of Regensburg
  • Takeo Watanabe
    Brown University
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  NIH R01EY019466, NIH R21EY028329, NIH R01EY027841, BSF2016058
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2147. doi:
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      Sebastian Frank, Markus Becker, Andrea Qi, Patricia Geiger, Ulrike Frank, Yuka Sasaki, Mark Greenlee, Takeo Watanabe; Mechanisms that stabilize visual perceptual learning differ in children and adults: Evidence from psychophysics and magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2147. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Visual perceptual learning (VPL) is defined as a long-term performance change on a visual task resulting from visual experience or training. After such training ends, VPL is fragile and needs to be stabilized against being retrogradely interfered with by new stimuli or tasks. Although stabilization is a well-established mechanism in VPL and other types of learning, it is unclear whether it changes across the life span. Here, we investigated how mechanisms that stabilize VPL change from childhood to adulthood. Participants (n = 13 children, 8-11 years old, and n = 14 adults, 18-29 years old) were trained on a two-interval forced choice orientation detection task with two different orientations in separate blocks. Between blocks participants rested for 60 min. VPL was measured as an improvement in detection performance for each trained orientation on a separate day. The results show that adults developed VPL only for the second trained orientation, indicating that VPL of the second trained orientation retrogradely interfered with stabilization of VPL of the first trained orientation. In contrast, children developed VPL for both trained orientations and did not show any interference, suggesting that post-training processing of VPL is significantly different between children and adults. We measured neurochemical mechanisms underlying the observed changes using magnetic resonance spectroscopy with new groups of participants (n = 13 children, 8-11 years old, n = 14 adults, 18-30 years old). We found that children after VPL training immediately exhibited increased concentrations of inhibitory neurotransmitter (GABA) over excitatory neurotransmitter (glutamate/glutamine) in visual cortex, whereas no such changes occurred in adults. These results suggest that children’s VPL is stabilized against interfering stimuli or tasks by inhibiting interfering mechanisms in visual cortex immediately after training ends. These dynamics do not occur in adulthood, which makes VPL in adults more susceptible to retrograde interference.


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