Functional consequences of experience-dependent plasticity on tactile perception following perceptual learning

Natalie K. Trzcinski, Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Steven S. Hsiao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Continuous training enhances perceptual discrimination and promotes neural changes in areas encoding the experienced stimuli. This type of experience-dependent plasticity has been demonstrated in several sensory and motor systems. Particularly, non-human primates trained to detect consecutive tactile bar indentations across multiple digits showed expanded excitatory receptive fields (RFs) in somatosensory cortex. However, the perceptual implications of these anatomical changes remain undetermined. Here, we trained human participants for 9 days on a tactile task that promoted expansion of multi-digit RFs. Participants were required to detect consecutive indentations of bar stimuli spanning multiple digits. Throughout the training regime we tracked participants’ discrimination thresholds on spatial (grating orientation) and temporal tasks on the trained and untrained hands in separate sessions. We hypothesized that training on the multi-digit task would decrease perceptual thresholds on tasks that require stimulus processing across multiple digits, while also increasing thresholds on tasks requiring discrimination on single digits. We observed an increase in orientation thresholds on a single digit. Importantly, this effect was selective for the stimulus orientation and hand used during multi-digit training. We also found that temporal acuity between digits improved across trained digits, suggesting that discriminating the temporal order of multi-digit stimuli can transfer to temporal discrimination of other tactile stimuli. These results suggest that experience-dependent plasticity following perceptual learning improves and interferes with tactile abilities in manners predictive of the task and stimulus features used during training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2375-2386
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • acuity
  • human
  • learning
  • psychophysics
  • somatosensory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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