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Perceptual learning is associated with experience-based changes in stimulus salience. Here, we use a novel procedure to show that learning a new association between a self-label and a neutral stimulus produces fast alterations in social salience measured by interference when targets associated with other people have to be selected in the presence of self-associated distractors. Participants associated neutral shapes with either themselves or a friend, over a short run of training trials. Subsequently, the shapes had to be identified in hierarchical (global-local) forms. The data show that giving a shape greater personal significance by associating it with the self had effects on visual selection equivalent to altering perceptual salience. Similar to previously observed effects linked to when perceptually salient distractors are ignored, effects of a self-associated distractor also increased activation in the left intraparietal cortex sulcus. The results show that self-associations to sensory stimuli rapidly modulate neural responses in a manner similar to changes in perceptual saliency. The self-association procedure provides a new way to understand how personal significance affects behavior.

Original publication




Journal article


Cereb Cortex

Publication Date





1060 - 1068


fMRI, hierarchical stimuli, perceptual salience, self-association, ultrafast learning, Adult, Female, Humans, Learning, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Neuropsychological Tests, Parietal Lobe, Photic Stimulation, Self Concept, Visual Perception, Young Adult