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Gamers, Rejoice! Brain Training Video Games Can Aid Low-Vision Children

Dec 02, 2016 05:41 AM EST
Kid-friendly video games can improve vision among children
A pair of 3D glasses are seen in front of a PC monitor at the unveiling of the X3D system in New York City. Children with less than ideal vision gain much improvement in their peripheral vision after a mere eight hours of training through modified video games. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Scientists have good news for the gaming community: kid-friendly video games can improve vision among children. In a study by researchers from the University of Rochester and Vanderbilt University, have discovered that children with less than ideal vision gain much improvement in their peripheral vision after a mere eight hours of training through such video games.

"Children who have profound visual deficits often expend a disproportionate amount of effort trying to see straight ahead, and as a consequence, they neglect their peripheral vision," revealed Duje Tadin from the University of Rochester. "This is problematic because visual periphery, which plays a critical role in mobility and other key visual functions, is often less affected by visual impairments."

An associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a professor in the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester, Tadin was astounded by the range of visual gains the children achieved in a short period of time. More surprising was that upon testing, these gains were stable a year later.

"We know that action video games (AVG) can improve visual perception, so we isolated the AVG components that we thought would have the strongest effect on perception and devised a kid-friendly game that compels players to pay attention to the entire visual field, not just where their vision is most impaired," explained Tadin. "As a result, we've seen up to 50 percent improvement in visual perception tasks."

The training game developed by the researchers eliminated certain aspects of AVGs, removing the demand for quick hand-eye coordination as well as violent or other material that could be inappropriate for children. To succeed in the game, the players must switch their attention between scanning a wide expanse and staying alert for moving targets while ignoring unrelated elements on the screen.

Jeffrey Nyquist, founder and CEO of NeuroTrainer and the study's lead author, facilitated a training experiment that was published in Scientific Reports. The participants were 24 low-vision youths from the Tennessee and Oklahoma Schools For The Blind who underutilized their peripheral vision and had a central visual acuity considerably worse than the 20/200 legal blindness limit.

The students were divided into three groups: a control group that played a Tetris-like game; a group that played a kid-friendly commercially available AVG, Ratchet, and Clank; and a group that used the training game devised by the researchers. All games were played on a large projection screen to better involve visual periphery.

The game the researchers developed has a dual-task component. Students tracked multiple moving objects simultaneously while being on the lookout for another object that briefly appears and requires a response from the player.

"We were surprised by the range of improvements, and we were even more surprised when we tested a few of the students a year later and found that the gains they made were stable," revealed Nyquist. "Within just a few hours of training, they were able to expand their usable visual field and visual search ability."

Nyquist noted that when the researchers began the visual training, it was to evaluate how they maneuver around their environments. "But we quickly went from assessing to thinking 'maybe we have something that can train them and improve their real-life abilities,'" he shared. "We didn't improve the kids' hardware; these children have profound physical problems with their optics, muscles, and retina, and we can't fix that. But we could improve their software by training their brain to reallocate attentional resources to make better use of their periphery vision."

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