Category Learning Increases Discriminability of Relevant Object Dimensions in Visual Cortex

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Abstract

Learning to categorize objects can transform how they are perceived, causing relevant perceptual dimensions predictive of object category to become enhanced. For example, an expert mycologist might become attuned to species-specific patterns of spacing between mushroom gills but learn to ignore cap textures attributable to varying environmental conditions. These selective changes in perception can persist beyond the act of categorizing objects and influence our ability to discriminate between them. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging adaptation, we demonstrate that such category-specific perceptual enhancements are associated with changes in the neural discriminability of object representations in visual cortex. Regions within the anterior fusiform gyrus became more sensitive to small variations in shape that were relevant during prior category learning. In addition, extrastriate occipital areas showed heightened sensitivity to small variations in shape that spanned the category boundary. Visual representations in cortex, just like our perception, are sensitive to an object's history of categorization.

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