All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Kristina M Visscher

Advisory Committee Members

Franklin R Amthor

David C Knight

Miyoung Kwon

Christianne E Strang

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2020

Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

There are many contexts in which experience causes lasting changes in behavior that improve our ability to respond to our environment. Such improvements in performance, sometimes referred to as perceptual learning, are often the result of training and can enhance our ability to effectively respond to our environment. Recently, researchers have sought a more detailed understanding of perceptual learning and worked to apply these principles to improve perceptual learning in applied domains. In addition to training, another way to improve our perception of the environment is to increase the level of attention paid to features that are useful to us. Research in participants with healthy vision has shown that attention to an area in the visual field involves top-down input from cortical ‘control’ networks, and there are modifications in ongoing activity in the sections of visual cortex that process that aspect of vision. These top-down control networks include the fronto-parietal attention (FP) network and the cingulo-opercular (CO) network. The improvements in performance that arise because of attention are similar, in many respects, to the improvements observed following visual training. This dissertation aims to investigate whether training influences the relationship between vision and attention, whether these changes are retinotopically specific, and what underlying neural mechanisms mediate the performance improvements following perceptual learning. The first aim was to understand the relationship between focused attention and improvements in peripheral vision due to visual training in individuals with healthy vision, in order to assess whether some aspects of training-driven perceptual improvements may be derived from altered attention. The second aim was to understand the neural mechanisms underlying peripheral vision training. This dissertation presents three main findings: 1) the mechanism responsible for perceptual learning in peripheral vision training does not involve changing dynamic attention but may be due to increased fixation stability, 2) cortical thickness in the area of the visual cortex that is associated with the trained location in the visual field does not increase with training, and 3) functional connectivity between the area of the visual cortex that is associated with the trained location and attentional networks does not increase with training.

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