UCI receives $1.6 million grant to study eye training and brain mechanisms

July 06, 2006

Irvine, Calif., July 6, 2006 -- A UC Irvine cognitive scientist has been awarded more than $1.6 million over five years to study limitations in how people process visual information, and how training can improve performance when the task is dependent on visual analysis. The findings of the study would not only help individuals, such as pilots or air traffic controllers, who rely on practiced interaction with visual displays to do their jobs, but also those who suffer from disorders such as dyslexia or "lazy eye."

Barbara Anne Dosher, dean of the School of Social Sciences, in collaboration with University of Southern California colleague Zhong-Lin Lu, will perform studies on individuals with normal vision using controlled visual displays and computational models. The goal is to better understand how the brain processes the visual world and how that processing can be changed with experience or training. The grant from the National Eye Institute is a competitive continuation of a previous multi-year grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health.

"Human vision is a complex and marvelous ability that requires the brain to seamlessly merge a number of complex computations and analyses," Dosher said. "These analyses may be limited by a number of factors, including acuity and the ability to filter out competing inputs. By studying how visual training improves task performance in individuals with normal vision, this project can help us understand the fundamental principles of visual processes and how training can be used to improve performance for people with certain deficits and disorders."

Many visual skills, such as letter and word recognition, develop over long periods of practice and training. Performance scores can improve dramatically with practice, and there is evidence that it is possible to modify how the brain computes the visual input it receives. The researchers will conduct experiments on college students with normal vision to determine the optimal training patterns for visual analysis and what makes training generalize to new situations. Specifically, they will look at whether easy tasks should be mixed in with difficult tasks when conducting training, whether specific training in cluttered displays is necessary, and whether and in what time intervals feedback should be given to the trainee to optimize future performance.

Dosher and Lu have been working in visual attention and perceptual learning for seven years. In a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they showed that a new approach may be more efficient in training the eyes to filter out visual clutter and focus on a target.
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