Mindfulness and Vision: Lessons from Langer’s Experiments


Psych Science Covers

In 2010, Ellen Langer and her colleagues authored an intriguing article in Psychological Science titled Believing Is Seeing: Using Mindlessness (Mindfully) to Improve Visual Acuity.  The abstract is the entree to the story of three fascinating experiments to make the authors’ points about how mindset affects one component of vision – visual acuity, so we’ll quote it in its entirety:

“These experiments show that vision can be improved by manipulating mind-sets. In Study 1, participants were primed with the mind-set that pilots have excellent vision. Vision improved for participants who experientially became pilots (by flying a realistic flight simulator) compared with control participants (who performed the same task in an ostensibly broken flight simulator). Participants in an eye-exercise condition (primed with the mind-set that improvement occurs with practice) and a motivation condition (primed with the mind-set “try and you will succeed”) demonstrated visual improvement relative to the control group. In Study 2, participants were primed with the mind-set that athletes have better vision than nonathletes. Controlling for arousal, doing jumping jacks resulted in greater visual acuity than skipping (perceived to be a less athletic activity than jumping jacks). Study 3 took advantage of the mind-set primed by the traditional eye chart: Because letters get progressively smaller on successive lines, people expect that they will be able to read the first few lines only. When participants viewed a reversed chart and a shifted chart, they were able to see letters they could not see before. Thus, mind-set manipulation can counteract physiological limits imposed on vision.”

Langer’s forty year career in Mindfulness has been steeped in visual cognition and re-cogntion at a level much broader than visual acuity.  An academic form Harvard also in touch with “the real world”, you’ll get a sense of Langer’s depth from a delightful presentation she gave several years ago that leads with The Renshaw Cow.

One thought on “Mindfulness and Vision: Lessons from Langer’s Experiments

  1. Vision is very much dependent on value. We do not see that which has no value to us. In the gorilla experiment, those who value accurately counting the passes, see the passes, not the gorilla. Those reading this post, who value space, may be aware of the space between themselves and the monitor as well as the monitor’s position compared to the wall behind it. In therapy, we routinely give value by our instruction sets and questions. Giving special value to visual acuity, by positioning it against athletics, flying, or position, could easily work. Yesterday I had a patient improve from 20/400 to 20/200 just by getting him to value acuity. Arousal itself may me instigated by perceived value, whether we value reaching or avoiding something.

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