Category Learning Stretches Neural Representations in Visual Cortex.

Research paper by Jonathan J Folstein, Thomas J TJ Palmeri, Ana E AE Van Gulick, Isabel I Gauthier

Indexed on: 10 Mar '15Published on: 10 Mar '15Published in: Current Directions in Psychological Science


We review recent work that shows how learning to categorize objects changes how those objects are represented in the mind and the brain. After category learning, visual perception of objects is enhanced along perceptual dimensions that were relevant to the learned categories, an effect we call dimensional modulation (DM). DM stretches object representations along category-relevant dimensions and shrinks them along category-irrelevant dimensions. The perceptual advantage for category-relevant dimensions extends beyond categorization and can be observed during visual discrimination and other tasks that do not depend on the learned categories. fMRI shows that category learning causes ventral stream neural populations in visual cortex representing objects along a category-relevant dimension to become more distinct. These results are consistent with a view that specific aspects of cognitive tasks associated with objects can account for how our visual system responds to objects.