September 23, 2010
Easier Way To Do Perceptual Learning

Learning musical pitch discrimination can be done with half the effort.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Scientists long have recognized that many perceptual skills important for language comprehension and reading can be enhanced through practice. Now research from Northwestern University suggests a new way of training that could reduce by at least half the effort previously thought necessary to make learning gains.

The research also may be the first behavioral demonstration of metaplasticity -- the idea that experiences that on their own do not generate learning can influence how effective later experiences are at generating learning.

"Prior to our work much of the research into perceptual learning could be summed up as 'no pain, no gain,'" says Beverly Wright, first author of a study in the Sept. 22 Journal of Neuroscience and communication sciences and disorders professor at Northwestern. "Our work suggests that you can have the same gain in learning with substantially less pain."

20 minutes of training followed by 20 minutes of listening to a musical tone was just as effective as 40 minutes of training. Click thru and read the details.

But the Northwestern researchers found that robust learning occurred when they combined periods of practice that alone were too brief to cause learning with periods of mere exposure to perceptual stimuli. "To our surprise, we found that two 'wrongs' actually can make a right when it comes to perceptual learning," says Wright.

What's more, they found that the combination led to perceptual learning gains that were equal to the learning gains made by participants who performed twice as much continuous task training (training which by nature of its repetition and length often is onerous).

The whole area of optimal training time, optimal exposure time, and intervals between quizzes to help consolidate learning holds out the potential for faster learning with less effort to form longer lasting memories and skills.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 September 23 10:14 PM  Brain Memory

Brett Bellmore said at September 26, 2010 5:15 AM:

Ok, that's a pretty basic task, and I can see how this could work: It doesn't exactly take much conscious thought to start recruiting 'agents' in the brain to distinguish between frequencies in a narrow range. Continued exposure to the tones keeps the process running in the background.

I'm soon going to start learning German, as my employer will require me to spend a while there next year. Sounds like, rather than putting in a couple of hours at Rosetta Stone every evening, maybe I should put in an hour, and watch German language films afterwards.

LoboSolo said at September 26, 2010 10:10 AM:


People learning languages differently. I'm conversant in three languages besides English. Learning languages does not come naturally for me. I know people who can hear it; repeat it; and know it. But I have to hear it; write it; repeat it; repeat it; write it; repeat it ... and then it begins to sink it. I have a more logical mind that needs to know the construct and the fit it in whereas some people just babble it and know it.

If you're a hear it; repeat it; know it type of person ... something like Rosetta Stone will be great for you.

No matter your approach, you'll eventually reach a point where you'll stop translating in your head and just let the words flow.

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