Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
April 2018, Vol. 30, No. 4, Pages 449-467
© 2017 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Does Extensive Training at Individuating Novel Objects in Adulthood Lead to Visual Expertise? The Role of Facelikeness
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Human adults have a rich visual experience thanks to seeing human faces since birth, which may contribute to the acquisition of perceptual processes that rapidly and automatically individuate faces. According to a generic visual expertise hypothesis, extensive experience with nonface objects may similarly lead to efficient processing of objects at the individual level. However, whether extensive training in adulthood leads to visual expertise remains debated. One key issue is the extent to which the acquisition of visual expertise depends on the resemblance of objects to faces in terms of the spatial configuration of parts. We therefore trained naive human adults to individuate a large set of novel parametric multipart objects. Critically, one group of participants trained with the objects in a “facelike” stimulus orientation, whereas a second group trained with the same objects but with the objects rotated 180° in the picture plane into a “nonfacelike” orientation. We used a fast periodic visual stimulation EEG protocol to objectively quantify participants' ability to discriminate untrained exemplars before and after training. EEG responses associated with the frequency of identity change in a fast stimulation sequence, which reflects rapid and automatic perceptual processes, were observed over lateral occipital sites for both groups before training. There was a significant, albeit small, increase in these responses after training but only for the facelike group and only to facelike stimuli. Our findings indicate that perceived facelikeness plays a role in visual expertise and highlight how the adult perceptual system exploits familiar spatial configurations when learning new object categories.