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Elizabeth M. Haris, Paul V. McGraw, Ben S. Webb, Susana T. L. Chung, Andrew T. Astle; The Effect of Perceptual Learning on Face Recognition in Individuals with Central Vision Loss. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2020;61(8):2. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.61.8.2.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
To examine whether perceptual learning can improve face discrimination and recognition in older adults with central vision loss.
Ten participants with age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) received 5 days of training on a face discrimination task (mean age, 78 ± 10 years). We measured the magnitude of improvements (i.e., a reduction in threshold size at which faces were able to be discriminated) and whether they generalized to an untrained face recognition task. Measurements of visual acuity, fixation stability, and preferred retinal locus were taken before and after training to contextualize learning-related effects. The performance of the ARMD training group was compared to nine untrained age-matched controls (8 = ARMD, 1 = juvenile macular degeneration; mean age, 77 ± 10 years).
Perceptual learning on the face discrimination task reduced the threshold size for face discrimination performance in the trained group, with a mean change (SD) of –32.7% (+15.9%). The threshold for performance on the face recognition task was also reduced, with a mean change (SD) of –22.4% (+2.31%). These changes were independent of changes in visual acuity, fixation stability, or preferred retinal locus. Untrained participants showed no statistically significant reduction in threshold size for face discrimination, with a mean change (SD) of –8.3% (+10.1%), or face recognition, with a mean change (SD) of +2.36% (–5.12%).
This study shows that face discrimination and recognition can be reliably improved in ARMD using perceptual learning. The benefits point to considerable perceptual plasticity in higher-level cortical areas involved in face-processing. This novel finding highlights that a key visual difficulty in those suffering from ARMD is readily amenable to rehabilitation.
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