Perceptual skills can be improved even in adulthood, but this learning seldom occurs by stimulus exposure alone. Instead, it requires considerable practice performing a perceptual task with relevant stimuli. It is thought that task performance permits the stimuli to drive learning. A corresponding assumption is that the same stimuli do not contribute to improvement when encountered separately from relevant task performance because of the absence of this permissive signal. However, these ideas are based on only two types of studies, in which the task was either always performed or not performed at all. Here we demonstrate enhanced perceptual learning on an auditory frequency-discrimination task in human listeners when practice on that target task was combined with additional stimulation. Learning was enhanced regardless of whether the periods of additional stimulation were interleaved with or provided exclusively before or after target-task performance, and even though that stimulation occurred during the performance of an irrelevant (auditory or written) task. The additional exposures were only beneficial when they shared the same frequency with, though they did not need to be identical to, those used during target-task performance. Their effectiveness also was diminished when they were presented 15 min after practice on the target task and was eliminated when that separation was increased to 4 h. These data show that exposure to an acoustic stimulus can facilitate learning when encountered outside of the time of practice on a perceptual task. By properly using additional stimulation one may markedly improve the efficiency of perceptual training regimens.
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