Acquisition versus consolidation of auditory perceptual learning using mixed-training regimens

© 2015 Maidment et al. Learning is considered to consist of two distinct phases-acquisition and consolidation. Acquisition can be disrupted when short periods of training on more than one task are interleaved, whereas consolidation can be disrupted when a second task is trained after the first has been initiated. Here we investigated the conditions governing the disruption to acquisition and consolidation during mixed-training regimens in which primary and secondary amplitude modulation tasks were either interleaved or presented consecutively. The secondary task differed from the primary task in either task-irrelevant (carrier frequency) or task-relevant (modulation rate) stimulus features while requiring the same perceptual judgment (amplitude modulation depth discrimination), or shared both irrelevant and relevant features but required a different judgment (amplitude modulation rate discrimination). Based on previous literature we predicted that acquisition would be disrupted by varying the task-relevant stimulus feature during training (stimulus interference), and that consolidation would be disrupted by varying the perceptual judgment required (task interference). We found that varying the task-relevant or -irrelevant stimulus features failed to disrupt acquisition but did disrupt consolidation, whereas mixing two tasks requiring a different perceptual judgment but sharing the same stimulus features disrupted both acquisition and consolidation. Thus, a distinction between acquisition and consolidation phases of perceptual learning cannot simply be attributed to (task-relevant) stimulus versus task interference. We propose instead that disruption occurs during acquisition when mixing two tasks requiring a perceptual judgment based on different cues, whereas consolidation is always disrupted regardless of whether different stimulus features or tasks are mixed. The current study not only provides a novel insight into the underlying mechanisms of perceptual learning, but also has practical implications for the optimal design and delivery of training programs that aim to remediate perceptual difficulties.