The University of California, Riverside baseball team enjoyed a significant on-field performance boost following two months of vision training. Players had a 31% improvement in visual acuity, which led to 4.4% fewer strikeouts, an estimated 41 more runs and four or five more winning games in their 2013 season, according to a study in the February 17 issue of Current Biology.
“I didn’t think we would see as much of an improvement as we did,” says UCR head baseball coach Doug Smith. “Our guys stopped swinging at some pitches and started hitting at others.”
The authors believe that this is the first study to show that perceptual learning can yield quantifiable vision improvements in normally sighted individuals.
During the study period, the players used custom software built into an electronic vision training program (Ultimeyes, Carrot Neurotechnology) for 25 minutes per day, four days a week. The program instructed players to find and select patterns (Gabor targets) that specifically stimulated neurons associated with the early visual cortex. These stimuli were made increasingly dimmer as the simulation progressed, which forced the players to focus and concentrate more intensely.
“The goal of the program is to train the brain to better respond to the inputs that it gets for the eye,” said lead author Aaron Seitz, PhD, associate professor of psychology at UC, Riverside. “When we go to the gym and exercise, we are able to increase our physical fitness; it’s the same thing with the brain. By exercising our mental processes, we can promote our mental fitness.”
After two months of vision training, the players reported that they saw the ball more clearly, were able to see further on the field and could more easily distinguish between low-contrast objects.
“The demonstration that seven players reached 20/7.5 acuity—the ability to read text at three times the distance of a normal observer—is dramatic and required players to stand 40 feet back from the eye chart in order to get a measurement of their vision,” Dr. Seitz added.
Even more impressive, the players began to perform better on the diamond. They had fewer strikeouts and generated more runs following the training period, which the researchers believe may have translated into an additional four to five team victories during the season.
“As with most other aspects of our function, our potential is greater than our normative level of performance,” said Dr. Seitz. “Understanding the rules of brain plasticity unlocks great potential for improvement of health and wellbeing.”
Going forward, the researchers hope to use their training program to improve poor visual acuity in cataract, macular degeneration and amblyopia patients.
Deveau J, Ozer DJ, Seitz AR. Improved vision and on-field performance in baseball through perceptual learning. Curr Biol. 2014 Feb 17;24(4):R146-7.