The neural basis of visual object learning

Laboratory of Biological Psychology, University of Leuven (K.U.Leuven), Tiensestraat 102, 3000 Leuven, Belgium. <>
Trends in Cognitive Sciences (Impact Factor: 21.97). 11/2009; 14(1):22-30. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.11.002
Source: PubMed


Object vision in human and nonhuman primates is often cited as a primary example of adult plasticity in neural information processing. It has been hypothesized that visual experience leads to single neurons in the monkey brain with strong selectivity for complex objects, and to regions in the human brain with a preference for particular categories of highly familiar objects. This view suggests that adult visual experience causes dramatic local changes in the response properties of high-level visual cortex. Here, we review the current neurophysiological and neuroimaging evidence and find that the available data support a different conclusion: adult visual experience introduces moderate, relatively distributed effects that modulate a pre-existing, rich and flexible set of neural object representations.

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    • "The same attractor state may be activated by many different stimuli, including purely internal activations. For simple visual percepts, such as shapes of objects, similarity between brain activations A(M) in the inferotemporal cortical area have been directly compared, using fMRI neuroimaging, to the similarity of the shapes of these objects [11]. Significant similarity has been also found in the fMRI patterns of whole brain activity when people think about specific objects [12], showing how meaning of concepts is encoded in distributed activity of the brain. "
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    • "Human: Schiltz et al., 1999; Schwartz et al., 2002; Furmanski et al., 2004; Yotsumoto et al., 2008; for a recent review see Lu et al., 2011). Further, long-term training with artificial objects in both human (e.g., Op de Beeck et al., 2006; Yue et al., 2006; Wong et al., 2009b; Zhang et al., 2010) and non-human primates (e.g., Kobatake et al., 1998; Op de Beeck et al., 2001; Baker et al., 2002; Woloszyn and Sheinberg, 2012) have revealed specific changes in the response of high-level visual cortex such as increases or decreases in response magnitude and increased selectivity for trained objects and task-relevant stimulus dimensions (for review, see Op de Beeck and Baker, 2010b). For example, Op de Beeck et al. (2006) trained human subjects for approximately 10 h to discriminate between exemplars in one of three novel object classes (“smoothies”, “spikies”, and “cubies”). "
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    • "After training, the mean magnitude of neural activation in a region of interest can be either increased [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], decreased [2], [3], [6], [8], [9], [10], [11] or even unchanged [12]. We argue that one possible interpretation of these inconsistent findings is that learning-induced changes are not homogenous in that the activation of some neurons is increased and the activation of others is decreased (for a review, see [13]). Accordingly, fMRI studies based on the mean magnitudes of neural activation averaged across voxels may show inconsistent findings. "
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