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.