Screen time changes visual perception, but that's not bad

The ongoing pandemic has shifted many of our interactions online, with video calls replacing in-person classes, work meetings, conferences and other events. Will all that screen time damage our vision? Maybe not. It turns out that our visual perception is highly adaptable, according to new research.



The finding in the work is that the human perceptual system rapidly adjusts to a substantive alteration in the statistics of the visual world, which is what happens when someone is playing video games.


Research shows that we tend to pay more attention to horizontal and vertical orientations, at least in the lab; in real-world environments, these differences probably aren't noticeable, although they likely still drive behaviour. Painters, for example, tend to exacerbate these distinctions in their work, a focus of a different research group.


Orientation is a fundamental aspect of how our brain and eyes work together to build the visual world. Interestingly, it's not fixed; our visual system can adapt to changes swiftly, as the group's two experiments show.

The first experiment established a method of eye-tracking that doesn't require an overt response, such as touching a screen. The second had college students play four hours of Minecraft -- one of the most popular computer games in the world -- before and after showing them visual stimuli. Then, researchers determined the subjects' ability to perceive phenomena in the oblique and vertical/horizontal orientations using the eye-tracking method from the first experiment.


A single session produced a clearly detectable change. While the screen-less control group showed no changes in their perception, the game-players detected horizontal and vertical orientations more easily. Neither group changed their perception in oblique orientations.


Other research groups who have examined the effects of digital exposure on other aspects of visual perception have concluded that long-term changes do take place, at least some of which are seen as helpful.


Source: Binghamton University