Brain Training, Perceptual Learning, Baseball, and Vision

Blurred lines are all the rage these days in pop culture.

Seeing blurred lines better looks like it’s all the rage these days in pop-up psychology as well, with neuroscientist Aaron Seitz and his team applying their interest in baseball and vision science to improve the batting performance at UCR according to this article published in Current Biology.

gaborIt’s safe to say that when Nobel Prize winning physicist Dennis Gabor invented the Patch to which his affixed, the last thing he had in mind for use of the stimulus was baseball practice.  The Gabor Patch has become ubiquitous in vision science research, and has undergone a resurgence in the past 20 years owing in large measure to the work by Levi, Polat, Sagi and others in perceptual learning for amblyopia therapy.  Neurovision, an Israeli-based company inspired by Polat’s vision, set up shop in the United States trying to get eye docs interested in this interactive, video-game format of trying to identify Gabor Patches in various configurations.

Spinning Baseball


Hitting a spinning baseball on the fat part of the bat is hard.  So hard that some allege it is one of the most difficult feats to accomplish in sports.  From my current vantage point in spring training, it doesn’t look like it has gotten any easier.  Whether you’re a baseball fan or a player you’ve no doubt heard the mythology about Ted Williams claiming he could see the seems on the ball when he hit, and that he had a form of hyper acuity well beyond 20/20.


If Seitz and his colleagues are correct, then what Ted Williams may have done was train himself through many hours of Gladwellian practice to improve contrast sensitivity and dynamic visual acuity of a rotating sphere with identifying characteristics that pitchers were trying their best to disguise.

Seitz has set his sights on a product called Ultimeyesnow available for download in the iTunes store.  You’ll see that two areas of performance are featured, one for turning back on the clock on vision – a reference to amblyopia and presbyopia – and the other to athletic performance.  By going to the featured links you can get to see all of the potential excitement that eye-Seitz is generating.  Actually Seitz is very careful, as are all vision scientists, to differentiate “vision training” from “perceptual learning”, yet coaches and mangers refer to it as training vision.  The media has picked up on this as “brain training through vision”.  To Ted Williams however this would all be semantics, and as Pete Rose was quoted as saying, his philosophy on hitting was simple: “See the ball, hit the ball”.  The ultimate question however is the extent to which hitters can see the ball better by training, and for further insights see this discussion on Reddit.  Improving visual skills in sports is part of a wide area of interest for those involved in the Sports Vision Section of the American Optometric Association.  But at this time of year, most eyes and minds are on baseball.




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