Walking Shifts Our Visual Preference: Neuroscientists
Mon, April 19, 2021

Walking Shifts Our Visual Preference: Neuroscientists

Sight begins when the eye receives physical stimuli in the form of light and sends those stimuli to the brain as electrical signals / Photo by: Oleg Gekman via Shutterstock


Sight begins when the eye receives physical stimuli in the form of light and sends those stimuli to the brain as electrical signals. The brain will then interpret the signals (light waves) as images. But two neuroscientists from the University of Würzburg in Germany recently discovered that walking changes the way people process visual information than when they are at rest.

Change in the Way Peripheral Vision Is Processed

When a person is walking around, the processing in the peripheral part of their vision is enhanced compared to the central part of their vision, the University of Würzburg news platform stated. The peripheral vision (indirect vision) is what allows humans to see objects in the corner of their eye without moving their head of eyes or what is seen on the side of the eye when looking straight ahead.

To explore the connection between perception and movement, neuroscientist Barbara Händel from Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg and Liyu Cao from the Department of Psychology asked their test subjects to wear electrode caps. The purpose of the EEG cap is to detect the electrical activity in the brain using small metal discs attached to the scalp. There is also a small amplifier that records the participants’ brain waves. The recorded EEG data were then sent wirelessly to a laptop that the participants are carrying in their backpack. The neuroscientists likewise used video glasses, motion sensors, and a mobile device that records the eye movements of the test subjects.

Participants were asked to stand still, walk slowly, and then walk with normal speed on their self-chosen path while they were completing a perceptual task. Their task was presented to them through the head-mounted display technology. While the test subjects were walking freely in the sports hall, their steady-state visual evoked potential (SSVEP) was measured. In neuroscience and neurology, SSVEP is a stimulus-locked signal that originates from the early visual cortex. These are signals that are the natural responses to the visual stimulation at certain frequencies.

When a person is walking around, the processing in the peripheral part of their vision is enhanced compared to the central part of their vision / Photo by: Stocked House Studio via Shutterstock


Perception During Movement

Although they said the whole set0up was “quite an effort,” they found the need to make it so to better understand the different human perceptual strategies while in the natural behavior. Dr. Händel explained that the study about perception during movement is still in its early stage but science can help determine which questions can be answered using technical equipment.

Using the video glasses, sensors, and mobile EEG, the duo found out that there is a difference in the process of visual stimuli when the person is moving or sitting. They theorized that the peripheral part of the vision is enhanced when the person is walking because it helps us provide information about the speed of the movement and the direction. In short, it plays a significant part in navigation.

Dr. Händel and Cao note that perception is not just a function of the stimulus but is also influenced by internal factors. They shared their plan of furthering their study to investigate the effect of changed perception during movement. For example, they wanted to know if the change also happens in other sensor areas and not just the visual input. They also wanted to know if aside from navigation, the altered perception also plays an important role in the cognitive processes, including creativity and memory.

The duo added that their research questions are possible to answer since there were previous experiments with mice which show that they learn better when they are moving or in motion. The belief that walking increases the creativity of a person has also existed since ancient times. Also, the connection between eye movements and creativity has been previously established, recognizing that people who blink more are more creative when they are solving a task.

The work of Dr. Händel and Cao received a grant from the Starting Grant of the European Research Council (ERC). The full content of their research was also published in the PLOS Biology journal. 

Interesting Facts About Vision

Our eyes are some of the most complex and amazing parts of the body. There are many interesting facts about this organ and about the vision that others may not know about. For instance, the American Academy of Ophthalmology shared that kids can focus up close, whether that be through watching TV or holding reading material. This is not bad for the eyes, but it may be a sign of nearsightedness.

The AAO adds that computer use won’t damage the eyes but blinking less than normal makes the eyes dry, leading to eye fatigue or eye strain. Scientist and photographer Dr. Roger Clark also says that if the human eye was a digital camera, it would have 576 megapixels. That’s already huge compared to the iPhone’s 12-megapixel primary camera. Eye care specialist Robertson Optical notes that the human eye is capable of distinguishing about 10 million colors and there are more than 2 million working parts in the human eye. Normally, people blink every 6 seconds, which would be an average of 14,000 blinks every day.