Perceptual learning of motion direction discrimination: Location specificity and the uncertain roles of dorsal and ventral areas


One interesting observation of perceptual learning is the asymmetric transfer between stimuli at different external noise levels: learning at zero/low noise can transfer significantly to the same stimulus at high noise, but not vice versa. The mechanisms underlying this asymmetric transfer have been investigated by psychophysical, neurophysiological, brain imaging, and computational modeling studies. One study (PNAS 113 (2016) 5724-5729) reported that rTMS stimulations of dorsal and ventral areas impair motion direction discrimination of moving dot stimuli at 40% coherent (“noisy”) and 100% coherent (zero-noise) levels, respectively. However, after direction training at 100% coherence, only rTMS stimulation of the ventral cortex is effective, disturbing direction discrimination at both coherence levels. These results were interpreted as learning-induced changes of functional specializations of visual areas. We have concerns with the behavioral data of this study. First, contrary to the report of highly location-specific motion direction learning, our replicating experiment showed substantial learning transfer (e.g., transfer/learning ratio = 81.9% vs. 14.8% at 100% coherence). Second and more importantly, we found complete transfer of direction learning from 40% to 100% coherence, a critical baseline that is missing in this study. The transfer effect suggests that similar brain mechanisms underlie motion direction processing at two coherence levels. Therefore, this study’s conclusions regarding the roles of dorsal and ventral areas in motion direction processing at two coherence levels, as well as the effects of perceptual learning, are not supported by proper experimental evidence. It remains unexplained why distinct impacts of dorsal and ventral rTMS stimulations on motion direction discrimination were observed.