Feng Meng, can the ability to see a flea as large as a wheel be transferred? Our team member Dr. Lukasz Grzeczkowski has recently revealed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that with saccades, there’s a spatial transfer effect!
In Chinese mythology, Feng Meng was learning archery from Lord Archer Hou Yi, who shot down nine suns. Hou Yi said, “Young man, first, you need to learn not to blink, and secondly, you need to see an ant as if it’s an elephant.” Feng Meng trained hard for three years and truly saw a flea on a cow’s tail by the window as large as a wheel. Sadly, after mastering the skill, this unfilial disciple killed his master.
It’s not rare for someone like Feng Meng to be fully committed to practicing a task to enhance perceptual sensitivity. However, most research has found that this kind of perceptual learning is quite “picky” (professionally termed as “specificity”). If you change the location or the feature, the perceptual learning effect disappears. Imagine, if you move the cow’s tail to another place and replace the flea with a bee, Feng Meng might be utterly baffled.
However, Lukasz found that previous studies on perceptual learning are primarily based on scenarios with fixed eyes! In reality, who doesn’t move their eyes? We placed perceptual learning during transsaccades and discovered that the perceptual learning effect could free from the learned location. That is, the learning effect from one place can be transferred to another, as long as the eyes saccade to that place. The catch is that the feature must remain the same. Going back to Feng Meng, if he wants to see a flea as large as a wheel, he can’t just fix his gaze without blinking; he needs to make saccades. However, don’t expect the ability he acquired in three years of seeing fleas to transfer to seeing bees. Our visual system is just so unique!
If you want to know more, see our original publication here:
Grzeczkowski, L., Shi, Z., Rolfs, M., & Deubel, H. (2023). Perceptual learning across saccades: Feature but not location specific. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(43), e2303763120. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2303763120