Learning not to feel: reshaping the resolution of tactile perception.
Omrani M., Lak A., Diamond ME.
We asked whether biased feedback during training could cause human subjects to lose perceptual acuity in a vibrotactile frequency discrimination task. Prior to training, we determined each subject's vibration frequency discrimination capacity on one fingertip, the Just Noticeable Difference (JND). Subjects then received 850 trials in which they performed a same/different judgment on two vibrations presented to that fingertip. They gained points whenever their judgment matched the computer-generated feedback on that trial. Feedback, however, was biased: the probability per trial of "same" feedback was drawn from a normal distribution with standard deviation twice as wide as the subject's JND. After training, the JND was significantly widened: stimulus pairs previously perceived as different were now perceived as the same. The widening of the JND extended to the untrained hand, indicating that the decrease in resolution originated in non-topographic brain regions. In sum, the acuity of subjects' sensory-perceptual systems shifted in order to match the feedback received during training.