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Arbitrary Categories Improve visual Learning Transfer, Study Finds

This type of learning transfer opens the door for applying basic cognitive science research to help patients with vision loss
March 28, 2019

Many brain training games claim to improve mental performance, but a growing body of cognitive research shows that while participants get better on a game’s specific tasks, the benefits do not transfer to real-life skills such as remembering what to pick up from the grocery store. 

“This challenge of transferring improvements on specific, simple cognitive tasks to complex, everyday tasks has been called the ‘curse of specificity’,” said Takeo Watanabe, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University. 

This curse hinders applying findings from basic cognitive science research to help patients, Watanabe added. But while studying a fundamental type of learning called visual perceptual learning, where neurons in the primary visual part of the brain are involved in learning specific features of objects, Watanbe and colleagues were surprised to find they could get learning transfer by leveraging a higher brain process: categorization.