Human object recognition is considered to be largely invariant to translation across the visual field. However, the origin of this invariance to positional changes has remained elusive, since numerous studies found that the ability to discriminate between visual patterns develops in a largely location-specific manner, with only a limited transfer to novel visual field positions. In order to reconcile these contradicting observations, we traced the acquisition of categories of unfamiliar grey-level patterns within an interleaved learning and testing paradigm that involved either the same or different retinal locations. Our results show that position invariance is an emergent property of category learning. Pattern categories acquired over several hours at a fixed location in either the peripheral or central visual field gradually become accessible at new locations without any position-specific feedback. Furthermore, categories of novel patterns presented in the left hemifield are distinctly faster learnt and better generalized to other locations than those learnt in the right hemifield. Our results suggest that during learning initially position-specific representations of categories based on spatial pattern structure become encoded in a relational, position-invariant format. Such representational shifts may provide a generic mechanism to achieve perceptual invariance in object recognition.
- position invariance
- peripheral vision