Can Vision Testing Improve Surgical & Athletic Performance?

visual testing Gizmodo is reporting today about how White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said he improved his performance though the daily use of a Nintendo video game. This reminded me of research I did while at Yale on similar visual testing on surgeons. We found back then that for both athletes, and surgeons (especially endoscopic surgeons) visual acuity correlated with performance and both could be improved with exercises.

First the report on the catcher and the video game. Gizmodo writes:

We were just about to stuff Nintendo’s Flash Focus vision game into the snake oil file when White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski revealed he actually improved his hitting through daily use of the software. Like many of the White Sox batters last year, Pierzynski stunk, and to come around he played Flash Focus in the off season. Now, one week into the 2008 schedule, the hapless catcher has two home runs, a .529 average and a team-leading seven RBIs.

What is Flash Focus?: Flash Focus is a video game for the Nintendo DS. Basically it is a series of hand eye coordination exercises designed to improve overall visual acuity through vision “exercises”. A review of the game and screen shots are here.

The Concept of Optomeric Testing for Athletes and Surgeons: The idea behind optomic testing is two fold. First, there are innate differences in visual performance between people second, elite athletes perform significantly better on objective tests of visual performance and hand-eye coordination, and third, specific testing and exercises can identify areas of optical performance weakness and improve them- and performance.

A review of optometric testing in general for athletes can be read here:

The basic tests they mention are:

  1. Visual acuity – right and left eye separately without an occluder
  2. Stereopsis at distance – contour and random dot
  3. Ocular dominance – independent of handedness
  4. Letter contrast
  5. Contrast sensitivity – at spatial frequencies known to be related to sport performance
  6. Contrast sensitivity with glare
  7. Reaction time
  8. Reaction time with varying targets

Our experiments with surgeons- Some years ago whenI was at Yale My Partner David Olive and I conducted a lerge study of novice and expert endoscopic surgeons using the validated athletic optometric testing tools. We testing a very large group of trainees as well as experts at an international AAGL conference. We found similar patterns as with the athletes. Namely significant differerences existed between visual ability and eye hand coordination skills and these were related to measures of performance and skill. We also found that with exercise performance could improve.

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