Aaron Seitz, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Riverside, has created a new, publicly available app that, with repeated use, can legitimately condition users to see farther.
It’s called UltimEyes, and in a recent study published in the journal Current Biology, the app was shown to lengthen the distance at which a group of baseball players could see by an average of 31 percent.
Here’s the crazier part: the app doesn’t actually improve your physical eyes or eye muscles. Instead, it improves your brain. The underlying concept here is something known as neuroplasticity – the idea that, with proper training, your brain can be fundamentally rewired to get better at certain functions.
“Within the last decade or so we’ve started to learn that brain fitness is a bit akin to physical fitness,” Seitz says. “If we exercise our brain in the proper ways, pretty much everything that the brain does should be able to be improved.”
A good example of this is Lumosity – it’s a set of brain games and exercises that have been shown to improve memory, attention, and flexibility. UltimEyes is founded on this same concept, but instead of exercising your hippocampus or prefrontal cortex, it works on your visual cortex – the section of your brain that processes the things your eyes see. Brain researchers have discovered that the visual cortex breaks down the incoming information fron your eyeballs into little fuzzy patterns called Gabor stimuli. The idea behind UltimEyes is that by directly presenting your eyes with these patterns, you can train your brain to process them more effectively. Over time, this improves your brain’s ability to create clear vision at farther distances.
Here’s a video that shows the app in action.
Basically, the app presents you with an array of faint Gabor stimuli set against a hazy grey background. Your task is to identify specific types of Gabor patterns – sometimes before a timer runs out, or before the blobs grow too faint to be seen. Each round is increasingly more challenging than the last.
According to the study in Current Biology, after using the app about 30 times at 25-minute intervals, the entire test group of baseball players experienced visual improvements beyond normal 20/20 vision – including a few who attained a freakishly good 20/7.5 vision.
The study isn’t without its flaws (check out this reddit thread) and there’s still quite a bit of research to be done on exactly why this process works, but the published results are definitely promising.
You can pick up the UltimEyes app for iPad right now for $6 bucks on Seitz’s website, and he’s hinted that an Android version is currently in the works.