Perceptual learning and adult cortical plasticity


Corresponding author C. D. Gilbert: Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY 10065, USA. Email:


The visual cortex retains the capacity for experience-dependent changes, or plasticity, of cortical function and cortical circuitry, throughout life. These changes constitute the mechanism of perceptual learning in normal visual experience and in recovery of function after CNS damage. Such plasticity can be seen at multiple stages in the visual pathway, including primary visual cortex. The manifestation of the functional changes associated with perceptual learning involve both long term modification of cortical circuits during the course of learning, and short term dynamics in the functional properties of cortical neurons. These dynamics are subject to top-down influences of attention, expectation and perceptual task. As a consequence, each cortical area is an adaptive processor, altering its function in accordance to immediate perceptual demands.