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Maka Malania, Maja Pawellek, Tina Plank, Mark W. Greenlee; Training-Induced Changes in Radial–Tangential Anisotropy of Visual Crowding. Trans. Vis. Sci. Tech. 2020;9(9):25. https://doi.org/10.1167/tvst.9.9.25.
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One of the diagnostic features of visual crowding, radial–tangential anisotropy, has been observed both in behavioral experiments as well as in responses of the blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signal. As has been shown previously, crowding is stronger for radially arranged flankers, and this tendency is reflected in BOLD signal suppression. In the current study, we examined the effect of practice on the neural correlates of crowding. We expected that training on a crowding task would cause shrinkage of the crowding zone that would be mirrored in corresponding BOLD signal responses.
Pre- and post-training fMRI images were acquired in 17 healthy volunteers using a 3-tesla MRI scanner. Participants were trained over 4 consecutive days on a crowding task.
Comparison of the pre- and post-training behavioral data indicates a significant shrinkage of the crowding zone as a result of training. Moreover, we observed a pronounced radial–tangential anisotropy in the BOLD signal prior to training; that is, radial flankers induced a larger reduction in the BOLD signal compared to equally spaced tangential flankers. After training, this radial–tangential anisotropy in the BOLD signal was significantly reduced. Specifically, we found significant changes in BOLD responses for the radial flanker configuration.
Our results demonstrate that training-induced changes in the anisotropic shape of the crowding zone are reflected in the BOLD signal in the early visual cortex.
Perceptual learning tasks may have the potential to improve visual performance by promoting neural plasticity. Our results could motivate the development of suitable rehabilitation protocols for patients with central vision loss.
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