Higher-Level Meta-Adaptation Mitigates Visual Distortions Produced by Lower-Level Adaptation

Xinyu Liu, Stephen A. Engel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The visual system adapts to the environment, changing neural responses to aid efficiency and improve perception. However, these changes sometimes lead to negative consequences: If neurons at later processing stages fail to account for adaptation at earlier stages, perceptual errors result, including common visual illusions. These negative effects of adaptation have been termed the coding catastrophe. How does the visual system resolve them? We hypothesized that higher-level adaptation can correct errors arising from the coding catastrophe by changing what appears normal, a common form of adaptation across domains. Observers (N = 15) viewed flickering checkerboards that caused a normal face to appear distorted. We tested whether the visual system can adapt to this adaptation-distorted face through repeated viewing. Results from two experiments show that such meta-adaptation does occur and that it makes the distorted face gradually appear more normal. Meta-adaptation may be a general strategy to correct negative consequences of low-level adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)654-662
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • adaptation
  • coding catastrophe
  • face perception
  • normalization
  • open data

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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