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Dissociable circuits for visual shape learning in the young and aging human brain.

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Mayhew, Stephen D 


Recognizing objects in cluttered scenes is vital for successful interactions in our complex environments. Learning is known to play a key role in facilitating performance in a wide range of perceptual skills not only in young but also older adults. However, the neural mechanisms that support our ability to improve visual form recognition with training in older age remain largely unknown. Here, we combine behavioral and fMRI measurements to identify the brain circuits involved in the learning of global visual forms in the aging human brain. Our findings demonstrate the learning enhances perceptual sensitivity in the discrimination of visual forms similarly in both young and older adults. However, using fMRI we show that the neural circuits involved in visual form learning differ with age. Our results show that in young adults visual shape learning engages a network of occipitotemporal, parietal, and frontal regions that is known to be involved in perceptual decisions. In contrast, in older adults visual shape learning engages primarily parietal regions, suggesting a stronger role of attentionally-guided learning in older age. Interestingly, learning-dependent changes are maintained in higher occipitotemporal and posterior parietal regions, but not in frontal circuits, when observers perform a control task rather than engaging in a visual form discrimination task. Thus, learning may modulate read-out signals in posterior regions related to global form representations independent of the task, whereas task-dependent frontal activations may reflect changes in sensitivity with training in the context of perceptual decision making.



aging, fMRI, learning, pattern classification, visual categorization

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Front Hum Neurosci

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Frontiers Research Foundation