A neuroscientist at the University of California Riverside (UCR) has created a new iPad app that provides your brain with a visual workout that is capable of training you to see farther than before.
Neuroscientist Aaron Seitz and his team of researchers tested the UltimEyes app on 19 players from the UCR baseball team and found that after 30 sessions of using the app for 25 minutes at a time, the vision of the players was improved by 31% beyond natural 20/20 vision.
Vision training is becoming important to major league baseball teams in the US as the ability to see the baseball and correctly calculate where and when to swing the baseball bat is crucial to scoring runs and winning the game.
One player even managed to achieve incredible 20/7.5 vision, meaning that at a distance of 20 feet, they were able to see objects that someone with normal vision would only be able to see from a distance of just 7.5 feet.
"We were using standard, on-the-wall eye charts. Normally, you stand 20 feet away, but our charts only measured down to 20/10 [vision]. So we moved some of these players 40 feet away from the eye chart and they were still reading the low lines. I was shocked," Seitz told Popular Mechanics.
Continued monitoring of the UCR baseball team also showed that with improved eyesight, the players who had used the app were able to achieve more runs during a game compared to other players on the team, which meant that the team would be able to win an extra four games during the baseball season.
The app makes use of simple puzzles to exercise the visual cortex (the part of the brain that controls eyesight). Research has shown that the visual cortex breaks down incoming information from our eyes into fuzzy patterns called "Gabor Stimuli".
Rewiring the brain
Scientists have found that it is possible to rewire the adult brain, a concept known as "neuroplasticity".
UCR researchers believe that if the eyes can be directly confronted with Gabor stimuli, the brain can be trained to process the patterns more efficiently, and over time, the brain can create clear vision at farther distances.
"Within the last decade or so we've started to learn that brain fitness is a bit akin to physical fitness. If we exercise our brain in the proper ways, pretty much everything that the brain does should be able to be improved," said Seitz.
The researchers are as yet unable to explain why the app is able to improve the vision in some people more than others, or why vision is sometimes improved in one eye more than the other, and it is also unclear how long the vision benefits from using the app will last.
Seitz is hoping to use his brain training approach to develop a larger set of programs that can be used to rewire the brain, such as to improve hearing and enhance memory.
The UltimEyes app is available to download from the iTunes app store for free, but a license code needs to be purchased from the official website for $5.99 (£3.58) to make the app work. Users also need to register, and their information is stored in a database so that UCR's researchers can track how app users' vision improves over time.