Visual crowding is a real phenomenon that refers to trouble seeing when other objects are present in one's field of vision. We commonly see visual crowding affects in students who may have had a premature birth, dyslexia, birth stress, Tourette's, or a diagnosis of autism. If you have visual crowding problems, you may feel overwhelmed in a visually complex environment (for instance a Chuck E. Cheese), struggle with word searches, and make wild guesses on long words or while reading from books where the print is too small and jammed together. Individuals can even have a measurable drop in their visual acuity depending if the eye chart symbols are shown too close together.
In the figure below, some people may have more trouble reading the Arial font where the letters are more scrunched together (top). This can be particularly challenging for young dyslexics who may have a limited visual span and overload when more than a few letters are presented at one time. One young lady we tested explained to us, "If the word's too long, I can't see all the letters. I can just see the first letter and the last letter and guess at what it must be." A dyslexic engineer mom agreed, "Yes, that's what I do, I look at the first letter and the last letter, and then try to quickly flash at what's in-between." Variations in fonts may improve readability because more differences in the shapes of words are evident depending on the font (many like Comic Sans or Times New Roman).
Training the visual span can sometimes be done with tachistoscope-type programs like the old speed reading projectors some of us may recall, but for many, just repeated presentations won't produce any significant gains. For some of those folks, a little video game play may just be the answer.
Following up on an observation that video game players had large visual spans, this research group from the University of Rochester sought to test whether "training" on a commercially available game like Unreal Tournament 2004 could produce a measurable improve in visual span. The good news is, it looks like yes...at least when the performances were all averaged together.
This is great to see - especially as many students with limited visual spans may be just the ones who "don't like video games" (because of the visual overload). It might be that if games are chosen carefully, they can be used to increase span (and reduce crowding effects).
In this study, the training period consisted of just 30 hours (hey, summer vacation is coming)...maximum 2 hours per day, minimum 5 hours per week, maximum 8 hours per week.
Have a great weekend - see you next Monday on the blog!
Action Games Increase Spatial Resolution pdf
Eide NL Blog: Video Games Training Brain
Eide NL Blog: Visual Crowding for Faces and Words - Implications for Autism and Dyslexia
Technorati tags: visual processing, dyslexia, autism, video game training, brain, rehabilitation, science, reading