Evidence from motor and visual studies suggests that the ability to generalize learning gains to untrained conditions decreases as the training progresses. This decrease in generalization was suggested to reflect a shift from higher to lower levels of neuronal representations of the task following prolonged training. In the auditory modality, however, the few studies that tested the influence of prolonging training on generalization ability showed no decrease and sometimes even an increase in generalization.
To test the impact of extending training in a basic psychoacoustic task on the ability to generalize the gains attained in training to untrained conditions.
Eighty-two young adults participated in two experiments that differed in the specific training regimen. In both experiments, training was conducted using a difference limen for frequency (DLF) task with an adaptive forced-choice procedure, for either a single- or nine-session training. Following training, generalization to the untrained ear and to an untrained frequency was assessed.
(a) Training induced significant learning (i.e., smaller DLF thresholds) following a single session of training, and more so following nine training sessions; (b) results from the combined data from both experiments showed that the ability to generalize the learning gains to the untrained ear and frequency was limited after the extended DLF training; (c) larger improvements under the trained condition resulted in smaller generalization to the untrained conditions.
The findings of increased specificity with training in the auditory modality support the notion that gradual changes, both quantitative and qualitative, occur in the neural representations of an auditory task during its acquisition. These findings suggest common underlying mechanisms in basic skill learning across different modalities.