Making perceptual learning practical to improve visual functions

Uri Polat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Task-specific improvement in performance after training is well established. The finding that learning is stimulus-specific and does not transfer well between different stimuli, between stimulus locations in the visual field, or between the two eyes has been used to support the notion that neurons or assemblies of neurons are modified at the earliest stage of cortical processing. However, a debate regarding the proposed mechanism underlying perceptual learning is an ongoing issue. Nevertheless, generalization of a trained task to other functions is an important key, for both understanding the neural mechanisms and the practical value of the training. This manuscript describes a structured perceptual learning method that previously used (amblyopia, myopia) and a novel technique and results that were applied for presbyopia. In general, subjects were trained for contrast detection of Gabor targets under lateral masking conditions. Training improved contrast sensitivity and diminished the lateral suppression when it existed (amblyopia). The improvement was transferred to unrelated functions such as visual acuity. The new results of presbyopia show substantial improvement of the spatial and temporal contrast sensitivity, leading to improved processing speed of target detection as well as reaction time. Consequently, the subjects, who were able to eliminate the need for reading glasses, benefited. Thus, here we show that the transfer of functions indicates that the specificity of improvement in the trained task can be generalized by repetitive practice of target detection, covering a sufficient range of spatial frequencies and orientations, leading to an improvement in unrelated visual functions. Thus, perceptual learning can be a practical method to improve visual functions in people with impaired or blurred vision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2566-2573
Number of pages8
JournalVision Research
Issue number21
StatePublished - 29 Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Grants from the National Institute for Psychobiology in Israel, funded by the Charles E. Smith Family, the Israel Science Foundation, and Ucansi, Inc.


  • Amblyopia
  • Contrast sensitivity
  • Perceptual learning
  • Plasticity
  • Presbyopia
  • Reaction time
  • Temporal processing
  • Visual acuity


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