Perceptual learning is a style of improving perceptual tasks as the result of repeated experiences; auditory, olfactory, tactile, taste, and visual learning can all be enhanced by this approach. The principle aim of perceptual learning is to enable individuals to better respond to their environments. There are four main methods involved in this type of perception enhancement: attention weighting, differentiation, imprinting, and unitization.
The process of perceptual learning was one of the first behavioral concepts to receive significant attention and research. Documentation reaches as far back as the 19th century, when experiments with tactile stimuli were conducted. The psychologist and philosopher William James played an important role in the furthering of perceptual learning studies. He placed great value on experience and deduced that his experiences were a result of stimuli he chose to pay attention to. This idea is the groundwork for all perceptual learning practices and is central to the four-fold methods of modern perceptual learning.
In perceptual learning, attention weighting entails making a distinction between relevant and irrelevant stimuli. By identifying these types of signals, individuals are able, over time, to turn their attention more naturally to important stimuli and ignore what is not important. An aspect of this involves differentiating between one signal in two different situations; in one setting, a signal may be considered relevant, but in another setting, it may be viewed as unnecessary. Distinguishing between the two is an important component of attention weighting.
The differentiation aspect of perceptual learning consists of developing knowledge regarding delineation, categorizing, and identifying differing dimensions of stimuli. By dividing signals into appropriate categories, differentiation makes for overall improved understanding and processing. An example of this would be mathematical problems, a form of stimuli that requires a breakdown, classification, and labeling of numbers and their functions.
Imprinting is the act of training psychological receptors to respond to certain signals. This action, when repeated, encourages faster, more fluent processing of stimuli. The receptors are developed over time, and the mind is then imprinted with ingrained responses to specified signals.
In the unitization phase of perceptual learning, tasks that may have previously entailed several detailed steps are now condensed into one step. For instance, words and sentences may be learned individually as part of a set of larger information. When the information needs to be recalled, unitization ensures it is recalled as a whole set of data, not just a jumble of disparate words and sentences.