Perception depends on the relative activity of populations of sensory neurons with a range of tunings and response gains. Each neuron's tuning and gain are malleable and can be modified by sustained exposure to an adapting stimulus. Here, we used a combination of human psychophysical testing and models of neuronal population decoding to assess how rapid adaptation to moving stimuli might change neuronal tuning and thereby modulate direction perception. Using a novel motion stimulus in which the direction changed every 10 ms, we demonstrated that 1,500 ms of adaptation to a distribution of directions was capable of modifying human psychophysical direction discrimination performance. Consistent with previous reports, we found perceptual repulsion following adaptation to a single direction. Notably, compared with a uniform adaptation condition in which all motion directions were equiprobable, discrimination was impaired after adaptation to a stimulus comprising only directions ± 30-60° from the discrimination boundary and enhanced after adaptation to the complementary range of directions. Thus, stimulus distributions can be selectively chosen to either impair or improve discrimination performance through adaptation. A neuronal population decoding model incorporating adaptation-induced repulsive shifts in direction tuning curves can account for most aspects of our psychophysical data; however, changes in neuronal gain are sufficient to account for all aspects of our psychophysical data.
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