Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Subordinate-level object processing is regarded as a hallmark of perceptual expertise. However, the relative contribution of subordinate- and basic-level category experience in the acquisition of perceptual expertise has not been clearly delineated. In this study, participants learned to classify wading birds and owls at either the basic (e.g., wading bird, owl) or the subordinate (e.g., egret, snowy owl) level. After 6 days of training, behavioral results showed that subordinate-level but not basic-level training improved subordinate discrimination of trained exemplars, novel exemplars, and exemplars from novel species. Event-related potentials indicated that both basic- and subordinate-level training enhanced the early N170 component, but only subordinate-level training amplified the later N250 component. These results are consistent with models positing separate basic and subordinate learning mechanisms, and, contrary to perspectives attempting to explain visual expertise solely in terms of subordinate-level processing, suggest that expertise enhances neural responses of both basic and subordinate processing.