The functional form of performance improvements has been extensively studied in speeded cognitive and motor tasks; in such tasks, reductions in response times have been characterized by the ubiquitous power law of learning or by a simpler exponential form. Performance improvements in perceptual capacities are also important in expertise, but their functional form is unknown. This study investigated the functional form of perceptual learning. For individual observers, reductions in thresholds were best described by an exponential function, rather than a power or compound exponential and power (apex) function. Learning was specific to orientation, a result that supports the perceptual locus of the learning, and was decoupled in high and low external noise, a result that reflects separable learning mechanisms in the two conditions. The simple exponential form of learning implies a constant relative rate of learning throughout practice; there was no evidence supporting multilevel hypotheses, such as serial reverse hierarchical and parallel-learning models, that posit multiple processes of learning characterized by different rates.
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