A pilot study suggests that playing video games may enhance a range of spatial vision functions in adults with amblyopia.
Abnormal visual experience during a sensitive period of development disrupts neuronal circuitry in the visual cortex and results in abnormal spatial vision or amblyopia. Here we examined whether playing video games can induce plasticity in the visual system of adults with amblyopia. Specifically 20 adults with amblyopia (age 15–61 y; visual acuity: 20/25–20/480, with no manifest ocular disease or nystagmus) were recruited and allocated into three intervention groups: action videogame group (n = 10), non-action videogame group (n = 3), and crossover control group (n = 7). Our experiments show that playing video games (both action and non-action games) for a short period of time (40–80 h, 2 h/d) using the amblyopic eye results in a substantial improvement in a wide range of fundamental visual functions, from low-level to high-level, including visual acuity (33%), positional acuity (16%), spatial attention (37%), and stereopsis (54%). Using a cross-over experimental design (first 20 h: occlusion therapy, and the next 40 h: videogame therapy), we can conclude that the improvement cannot be explained simply by eye patching alone. We quantified the limits and the time course of visual plasticity induced by video-game experience. The recovery in visual acuity that we observed is at least 5-fold faster than would be expected from occlusion therapy in childhood amblyopia. We used positional noise and modelling to reveal the neural mechanisms underlying the visual improvements in terms of decreased spatial distortion (7%) and increased processing efficiency (33%). Our study had several limitations: small sample size, lack of randomization, and differences in numbers between groups. A large-scale randomized clinical study is needed to confirm the therapeutic value of video-game treatment in clinical situations. Nonetheless, taken as a pilot study, this work suggests that video-game play may provide important principles for treating amblyopia, and perhaps other cortical dysfunctions.
Early abnormal visual experience disrupts neuronal circuitry in the brain and results in reduced vision, known as amblyopia or “lazy eye,” the most frequent cause of permanent visual loss in childhood. It is generally believed that adult amblyopia is irreversible beyond the sensitive period of brain development during childhood. In this study, we examine whether playing video games, both action and non-action, has an effect on the vision of adults with amblyopia. We assessed visual acuity (visual resolution), positional acuity (the ability to localize object's relative position), spatial attention (the ability to direct visual attention to various locations in the visual field), and stereoacuity (stereo-vision / 3-D depth perception) in a small group of teenagers and adults. We found that they tended to recover vision much faster than we would have expected from the results of conventional occlusion therapy in childhood amblyopia. Additional experiments and modelling suggest that the improvements are a result of decreasing spatial distortion and increasing information processing efficiency in the amblyopic brain. Thus, video games may include essential elements for active vision training to boost visual performance. Most importantly, our findings suggest that video-game play may provide important principles for treating amblyopia, a suggestion that we are pursuing with larger scale clinical trials.