Differences in the time course of learning for hard compared to easy training.

23 Feb 2018

Learning is known to facilitate performance in a range of perceptual tasks. Behavioral improvement after training is typically shown after practice with highly similar stimuli that are difficult to discriminate (i.e., hard training), or after exposure to dissimilar stimuli that are highly discriminable (i.e., easy training). However, little is known about the processes that mediate learning after training with difficult compared to easy stimuli. Here we investigate the time course of learning when observers were asked to discriminate similar global form patterns after hard vs. easy training. Hard training required observers to discriminate highly similar global forms, while easy training to judge clearly discriminable patterns. Our results demonstrate differences in learning and transfer performance for hard compared to easy training. Hard training resulted in stronger behavioral improvement than easy training. Further, for hard training, performance improved during single sessions, while for easy training performance improved across but not within sessions. These findings suggest that training with difficult stimuli may result in online learning of specific stimulus features that are similar between the training and test stimuli, while training with easy stimuli involves transfer of learning from highly to less discriminable stimuli that may require longer periods of consolidation.