Brain training video games help low-vision kids see better

November 30, 2016

A new study by vision scientists at the University of Rochester and Vanderbilt University found that children with poor vision see vast improvement in their peripheral vision after only eight hours of training via kid-friendly video games. Most surprising to the scientists was the range of visual gains the children made, and that the gains were quickly acquired and stable when tested a year later.

"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," said Duje Tadin, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at 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."

"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," said Tadin, who is also a professor in the Center for Visual Science. "As a result, we've seen up to 50 percent improvement in visual perception tasks."

Successful AVG players distribute and switch their attention across a wide area, while at the same time they remain vigilant for unexpected moving targets to appear, all while ignoring irrelevant stimuli.

The researchers created a training game with these specific task characteristics while eliminating other components of AVGs, such as the demand for speeded hand-eye coordination, and any violent or other non-child-friendly material.

GAME TRAINING

Twenty-four low-vision youths from the Tennessee and Oklahoma Schools For The Blind participated in the training experiment that appears in Scientific Reports. Pre-training screening showed that while most children had central visual acuity worse than the 20/200 legal blindness limit, they also underutilized their peripheral vision.

According to the study's lead author, Jeffrey Nyquist, founder and CEO of NeuroTrainer, the students' issues with the periphery were in part attentional.

Nyquist and the team hypothesized that training the students to pay more attention to their peripheral visual field could have quick results.

"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," said Nyquist. "But we could improve their software by training their brain to reallocate attentional resources to make better use of their periphery vision."

The students were divided into 3 groups: a control group that played a Tetris-like game; a group that played a kid-friendly commercially-available AVG, Ratchet & 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.

"The goal is to pay attention to a number of objects over a large area, and to be prepared to react to unexpected events in the even further periphery," explained Tadin. "It forces the low-vision students to expand their visual field--to shift their attention to the neglected areas of the visual field."

After a total of eight hours of training, groups who trained with the commercially-available AVG and the custom dual-task game showed significant visual improvements.

Improvements were seen in a range of visual tasks. The students were able to better perceive moving objects (motion perception) in the far periphery, they were able to better attend to visual crowding, such as identifying a specific letter within a field of other letters, and they were much faster at finding objects in cluttered scenes (visual search), like finding a stapler on a messy desk.

"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," said Nyquist. "Within just a few hours of training, they were able to expand their usable visual field and visual search ability."

Nyquist notes that when the researchers began their work with the students, it was to assess 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 said. "When we realized that the students achieved up to 50 percent improvement in visual tasks, we were blown away."
-end-
The research was supported by the National Eye Institute. Nyquist has since founded a for-profit company, NeuroTrainer, which utilizes the dual-task training component used in this research and has applied it to immersive virtual reality training games for elite athletes.

University of Rochester

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.