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Acquiring long-term representations of visual classes following extensive extrastriate damage
Different areas of human visual cortex are thought to play different roles in the learning of visual information: whereas in low/intermediate cortical areas, plasticity may be manifested by enhanced selectivity to learned visual features, in higher-level areas, plasticity may result in generalization and development of tolerance to degraded versions of the learned stimuli. The most effective tolerance to degraded information is presumably achieved in the case of cooperation between the different forms of plasticity. Whether this tolerance to degraded information also applies when the visual input is degraded as a result of a lesion to lower levels of the visual system remains an open question. To address this, we studied visual classification learning in a patient with an extensive bilateral lesion affecting intermediate/low-level visual areas but sparing higher-level areas. Despite difficulty in perceiving the stimuli, the patient learned to classify them, albeit not as quickly as control participants. Moreover, the patient's learning was maintained over the long term and was accompanied by improved discrimination of individual stimuli. These findings demonstrate that degraded output from lesioned, lower areas can be exploited in the service of a new visual task and the results likely implicate a combination of bottom-up and top-down processing during visual learning.