Perceptual learning factors and mechanisms

What happens to human perceptual systems when these forms of learning occur? One important factor is neuroplasticity, which enables human brains to develop specialized neural structures as an adaptation to environmental stimuli. Although this is much stronger with small children, as exhibited in the case of native language learning, neuroplasticity remains through adults lives; the amount may highly vary across individuals.

Another factor is the way in which the learning occurs. Adaptations might occur from casual observation or targeted strategies that focus on the stimulus. The time and repetition involved for the learning to take place might vary greatly, depending on the task, performance requirements, stimuli, and person. Furthermore, the person might be given supervised training, in which feedback is directly provided as she attempts to improve her performance. Alternatively, unsupervised training may occur, in which the trainer has placed sufficient stimuli in the learner's environment, but does not interfere with the learning process.

Four basic mechanisms have been developed to explain perceptual learning [99]:

  1. Attentional weighting: The amount of attention paid to features that are relevant to the task is increased, while decreasing attention to others.
  2. Stimulus imprinting: Specialized receptors are developed that identify part or all of the relevant stimuli. These could be neurological structures or abstract processes that function as such.
  3. Differentiation: Differing stimuli that were once fused together perceptually become separated. Subtle differences appear to be amplified.
  4. Unitization: This process combines or compresses many different stimuli into a single response. This is in contrast to differentiation and becomes useful for classifications in which the differences within a unit become irrelevant.

The remainder of this section offers examples and useful suggestions in the context of VR. The field is far from having standard perceptual training programs that resemble medical image or musical training. Instead, we offer suggestions on how to move and where to focus attention while trying to spot errors in a VR experience. This requires the human to remain aware of the interference caused by artificial stimuli, which goes against the stated definition of VR from Section 1.1.

Steven M LaValle 2020-01-06