Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Depth perception and video/computer culture

In class today we talked about the apparatus that Gregory used to test the Thiery/Woodworth theory about depth perception of the Muller-Lyer Illusion. We also talked about the paradox that pictures are to our perception of depth. Pictures convey depth but they are actually flat images with no actual depth. Because they are flat our brains cannot use the stereoscopic properties of vision to determine if things are actually further away or not just actually bigger or smaller. It's sort of confusing. In a picture some things are in focus and others are not. If that picture were an actual scene we would be able to focus on different objects in that field and they would alternately come into focus. The focus in a picture is fixed. Our brain relies on stereoscopic vision to determine the distance that an object has. One of the things that I began to wonder about as a result is the effect of images on the development of depth perception in children. Is it possible for instance to disable the stereoscopic features of vision by forcing a child to only look at the world as a screen (This would be an almost impossible experiment to do but…)? Could it be that increased exposure to images that are flat like the myriad of images kids are exposed to TV and computer may actually affect their ability to develop depth cues adequately? Essentially, is our hyper exposure to flat images disabling the natural development of depth perception?

Anecdote: My kids play baseball on their new Wii. I generally can't beat the boys at that game. I would say that I play a smarter game than they do – changing up the speed and location pitches in far more cunning ways than they do. They typically use the sinker pitch to try to get me out. I know that one of the reasons that I don't fare as well as they do is because they 'pick up' the ball much sooner than I do and can judge what type of pitch it is going to be. Since the game is mostly about timing – depth perception is a critical element. What is interesting is that given the same pitcher in a real life scenario I know although this is certainly not well tested that I fare much better than they do in being able to connect with the pitches. I have poor eyesight and they don't but those factors remain the same in both contexts. Why then can I bat better in real life than they can? Partly, I am sure it is because I have had more experience than they have but part of it I suggest is due to the tendencies their brains have developed to perceive depth…

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