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Different contexts require different visual pattern recognitions even for identical retinal inputs, and acquiring expertise in various visual-cognitive skills requires long-term training to become capable of recognizing relevant visual patterns in otherwise ambiguous stimuli. This 3-Tesla fMRI experiment exploited shikatsu-mondai (life-or-death problems) in the Oriental board game of Igo (Go) to identify the neural substrates supporting this gradual and adaptive learning. In shikatsu-mondai, the player adds stones to the board with the objective of making, or preventing the opponent from making nigan (two eyes), or the topology of figure of eight, with these stones. Without learning the game, passive viewing of shikatsu-mondai activated the occipito-temporal cortices, reflecting visual processing without the recognition of nigan. Several days after two-hour training, passive viewing of the same stimuli additionally activated the premotor area, intraparietal sulcus, and a visual area near the junction of the (left) intraparietal and transverse occipital sulci, demonstrating plastic changes in neuronal responsivity to the stimuli that contained indications of nigan. Behavioral tests confirmed that the participants had successfully learned to recognize nigan and solve the problems. In the newly activated regions, the level of neural activity while viewing the problems correlated positively with the level of achievement in learning. These results conformed to the hypothesis that recognition of a newly learned visual pattern is supported by the activities of fronto-parietal and visual cortical neurons that interact via newly formed functional connections among these regions. These connections would provide the medium by which the fronto-parietal system modulates visual cortical activity to attain behaviorally relevant perceptions.


Kosuke Itoh, Hideaki Kitamura, Yukihiko Fujii, Tsutomu Nakada. Neural substrates for visual pattern recognition learning in Igo. Brain research. 2008 Aug 28;1227:162-73

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PMID: 18621033

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