Harvard Psychologists Suggest that Thoughts May Improve Vision

Ellen Langer, Harvard Psychologist

When a group of participants were persuaded to think that they had superior vision, scientists were astounded at what they discovered. April’s issue of Psychological Science reported that Ellen Langer (Harvard University psychologist) and her colleagues had discovered further evidence to suggest that vision doesn’t only depend on information transferring between the eyes to the brain, but that the brain contains experienced-based assumptions, which dictate how it well it will visually perform in a given situation.

Get great night vision: persuade your brain that you have cat eyes.

Such expectations could mean that people devote little attention to customary scenes, which may cause them to ignore the outstanding, or unusual objects and events. If someone anticipates that they cannot see in the dark, then they are more likely going to feel blind when the lights go out; to test this theory, Langer flipped the familiar eye-chart upside down (so that the large E was on the bottom, and the smallest letters on top). She was surprised to find that most people reflected a standard impression of a normal eye chart, and therefore considered the top row to be the easiest to read.

Daniel Simons, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, criticizes the findings on the grounds that reversing an eye chart may entice volunteers to guess when they weren’t sure. Such guesses have a high chance of being correct, and therefore taint the results of the study.

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