Learning through mere exposure

In cooperation with colleagues from the Leibniz Institute for Employment Research of the TU Dortmund, neuroscientists in Bochum have demonstrated that human visual perception and attention can be improved without training. In Current Biology they report that the sense of vision can be lastingly changed by merely exposing subjects to visual stimuli for a short period of time. Thereby the frequency of the stimulus presentation determines whether perception and attention are enhanced or impaired.

What was previously known from animal studies has thus for the first time been demonstrated for human individuals too. "The findings open new perspectives in the intervention and treatment of visual perceptual disorders, because the changes can be induced quite simply" said Dr. Christian Beste of the RUB Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

New perspectives in learning

"The gold standard to achieve a lasting change in behaviour and perception is by means of training and practice, which intensively stimulates the brain" explains PD Dr. Hubert Dinse from the RUB's Institute of Neuroinformatics. "In case of learning through passive stimulation, training is replaced by stimulus exposure, but in order to be effective, it has to conform to specially adapted timing." As the scientists have shown, visual perception is impaired after slow visual stimulation, whereas rapid stimulation leads to improved perception. "In this way, we can determine the direction of learning processes by simple selection of the stimulation frequency" Dinse sums up. The changes were remarkably stable, as the effects remained unchanged for ten days.

From animal models to humans

From animal experiments it is known that stimulating electrically with either high or low frequency strengthens or weakens connections between cells, which is the foundation of learning and plasticity. In humans, changes in behaviour and perception are usually evoked by prolonged practice. The findings of the Bochum and Dortmund neuroscientists suggest that instead of training or electrically stimulating cells, selective behavioural changes can be evoked in humans by using equivalently timed visual stimulation of only forty minutes duration.

Making stimuli stronger or weaker

"Whether a sensory event is able to attract attention depends on its strength" states Beste. According to some models, different sensory events compete with each other and only the strongest influence our behaviour. Using passive visual stimulation, depending on the frequency, stimuli can be weakened or strengthened, thus changing the attentional process.

More information: Beste C, Wascher E, Güntürkün O, Dinse, H (2011) Improvement and Impairment of Visually Guided Behavior through LTP- and LTD-like Exposure-Based Visual Learning. Current Biology. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.065

Provided by Ruhr-University Bochum

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Looming sounds boost visual perception

Oct 16, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Whether it’s the sound of a speeding car approaching from out of the blue, or the faint echo of footsteps following you along a dark street, such looming sounds not only make our ears prick ...

Learning to see consciously

Mar 09, 2011

Our brains process many more stimuli than we become aware of. Often images enter our brain without being noticed: visual information is being processed, but does not reach consciousness, that is, we do not ...

Perceptual training improves vision of the elderly

Nov 22, 2010

Elderly adults can improve their vision with perceptual training, according to a study from the University of California, Riverside and Boston University that has implications for the health and mobility of senior citizens.

Study: Attention can impair perception

Sep 12, 2006

We normally think of paying attention to an object as a way to better perceive it, but U.S. scientists say sustained attention might worsen perception.

Recommended for you

Sport can help multiple sclerosis patients

35 minutes ago

A study developed at the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (Spain) has preliminarily concluded that people with multiple sclerosis may reduce perceived fatigue and increase mobility through a series of ...

Obama's BRAIN initiative gets more than $300 million

5 hours ago

President Barack Obama's initiative to study the brain and improve treatment of conditions like Alzheimer's and autism was given a boost Tuesday with the announcement of more than $300 million in funds.

US aims for traumatic brain injury clinical trial success

17 hours ago

An unprecedented, public-private partnership funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) is being launched to drive the development of better-run clinical trials and may lead to the first successful treatments for traumatic ...

User comments