Early Visual Processing and Perception Processes in Object Discrimination Learning

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A brief image presentation is sufficient to discriminate and individuate objects of expertise. Although perceptual expertise is acquired through extensive practice that increases the resolution of representations and reduces the latency of image decoding and coarse and fine information extraction, it is not known how the stages of visual processing impact object discrimination learning (ODL). Here, we compared object discrimination with brief (100 ms) and long (1,000 ms) perceptual encoding times to test if the early and late visual processes are required for ODL. Moreover, we evaluated whether encoding time and discrimination practice shape perception and recognition memory processes during ODL. During practice of a sequential matching task with initially unfamiliar complex stimuli, we find greater discrimination with greater encoding times regardless of the extent of practice, suggesting that the fine information extraction during late visual processing is necessary for discrimination. Interestingly, the overall discrimination learning was similar for brief and long stimuli, suggesting that early stages of visual processing are sufficient for ODL. In addition, discrimination practice enhances perceive and know for brief and long stimuli and both processes are associated with performance, suggesting that early stage information extraction is sufficient for modulating the perceptual processes, likely reflecting an increase in the resolution of the representations and an early availability of information. Conversely, practice elicited an increase of familiarity which was not associated with discrimination sensitivity, revealing the acquisition of a general recognition memory. Finally, the recall is likely enhanced by practice and is associated with discrimination sensitivity for long encoding times, suggesting the engagement of recognition memory in a practice independent manner. These findings contribute to unveiling the function of early stages of visual processing in ODL, and provide evidence on the modulation of the perception and recognition memory processes during discrimination practice and its relationship with ODL and perceptual expertise acquisition.

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