Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Individuals improve with practice on a variety of perceptual tasks, presumably reflecting plasticity in underlying neural mechanisms. We trained observers to discriminate biological motion from scrambled (nonbiological) motion and examined whether the resulting improvement in perceptual performance was accompanied by changes in activation within the posterior superior temporal sulcus and the fusiform “face area,” brain areas involved in perception of biological events. With daily practice, initially naive observers became more proficient at discriminating biological from scrambled animations embedded in an array of dynamic “noise” dots, with the extent of improvement varying among observers. Learning generalized to animations never seen before, indicating that observers had not simply memorized specific exemplars. In the same observers, neural activity prior to and following training was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Neural activity within the posterior superior temporal sulcus and the fusiform “face area” reflected the participants' learning: BOLD signals were significantly larger after training in response both to animations experienced during training and to novel animations. The degree of learning was positively correlated with the amplitude changes in BOLD signals.