Learning to perceive shape from temporal integration following late emergence from blindness

Tanya Orlov, Maayan Raveh, Ayelet McKyton, Itay Ben-Zion, Ehud Zohary*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Visual perception requires massive use of inference because the 3D structure of the world is not directly provided by the sensory input.1 Particularly challenging is anorthoscopic vision—when an object moves behind a narrow slit such that only a tiny fraction of it is visible at any instant. Impressively, human observers correctly recognize objects in slit-viewing conditions by early childhood,2,3 via temporal integration of the contours available in each sliver.4,5 But can this capability be acquired if one has been effectively blind throughout childhood? We studied 23 Ethiopian children which had bilateral early-onset cataracts—resulting in extremely poor vision in infancy—and surgically treated only years later. We tested their anorthoscopic vision, precisely because it requires a cascade of demanding visual inference processes to perceive veridical shape. Failure to perform the task may allow mapping specific bottlenecks for late visual recovery. The patients’ visual acuity typically improved substantially within 6 months post-surgery. Still, at this stage many were unable to recover shape under slit-viewing conditions, although they could infer the direction of global motion. However, when retested later, almost all patients could judge shape in slit-conditions necessitating temporal integration. This acquired capability often transferred to novel stimuli, in similar slit-viewing conditions. Thus, learning was not limited to the specific visual features of the original shapes. These results indicate that plasticity of sophisticated visual inference routines is preserved well into adolescence, and vision restoration after prolonged early-onset blindness is feasible to a greater extent than previously thought.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3162-3167.e5
JournalCurrent Biology
Volume31
Issue number14
DOIs
StatePublished - 26 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.

Keywords

  • anorthoscopic perception
  • cataract surgery
  • critical period
  • perceptual learning
  • shape recovery
  • sight restoration
  • temporal integration
  • visual cognition
  • visual deprivation

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