Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1889–1895 | Cite as

Easy-to-hard effects in perceptual learning depend upon the degree to which initial trials are “easy”

  • Matthew G. WisniewskiEmail author
  • Barbara A. Church
  • Eduardo MercadoIII
  • Milen L. Radell
  • Alexandria C. Zakrzewski
Brief Report


Starting perceptual training at easy levels before progressing to difficult levels generally produces better learning outcomes than constantly difficult training does. However, little is known about how “easy” these initial levels should be in order to yield easy-to-hard effects. We compared five levels of initial training block difficulty varying from very easy to hard in two auditory-discrimination learning tasks—a frequency modulation rate discrimination (Experiment 1) and a frequency range discrimination (Experiment 2). The degree of difficulty was based on individualized pretraining ~71% correct discrimination thresholds. Both experiments revealed a sweet spot for easy-to-hard effects. Conditions where initial blocks were either too easy or too difficult produced less benefit than did blocks of intermediate difficulty. Results challenge assumptions that sequencing effects in learning are related to attentional spotlighting of task-relevant dimensions. Rather, they support incremental learning models that account for easy-to-hard effects. Further, the results have implications for how perceptual training regimens should be designed to maximize the benefits of rehabilitative perceptual training.


Fading Progressive training Transfer along a continuum Adaptive training 



Kelsey Wheeler helped with data collection. This project was supported by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Science GM113109 of the National Institutes of Health.

Compliance with ethical standards

Open practices statement

A preexperiment plan, annotated postexperiment file, and the raw data are available at


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew G. Wisniewski
    • 1
    Email author
  • Barbara A. Church
    • 2
  • Eduardo MercadoIII
    • 3
  • Milen L. Radell
    • 4
  • Alexandria C. Zakrzewski
    • 1
  1. 1.Kansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.Georgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.University at Buffalo, The State University of New YorkBuffaloUSA
  4. 4.Niagara UniversityNiagara UniversityUSA

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