Sensory noise explains auditory frequency discrimination learning induced by training with identical stimuli

Christophe Micheyl, Josh H. McDermott, Andrew J. Oxenham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Scopus citations


    Thresholds in various visual and auditory perception tasks have been found to improve markedly with practice at intermediate levels of task difficulty. Recently, however, there have been reports that training with identical stimuli, which, by definition, were impossible to discriminate correctly beyond chance, could induce as much discrimination learning as could training with different stimuli. These surprising findings have been interpreted as evidence that discrimination learning can occur in the absence of perceived differences between stimuli and need not involve the fine-tuning of a discrimination mechanism. Here, we show that these counterintuitive findings of discrimination learning without discrimination can be understood simply by considering the effect of internal noise on sensory representations. Because of such noise, physically identical stimuli are unlikely to be perceived as being strictly identical. We show that, given empirically derived levels of sensory noise, perceived differences evoked by identical stimuli are actually not much smaller than those induced by the physical differences typically used in discrimination-learning experiments. We suggest that findings of discrimination learning with identical stimuli can be explained without implicating any fundamentally new learning mechanism.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)5-7
    Number of pages3
    JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 2009

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This work was supported by NIH Grant R01 DC 05216.


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