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  • Strobe eyewear training may improve vision in athletes

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2011
Compiled by Photonics Spectra staff

DURHAM, N.C. – Strobelike eyewear designed to train the vision of athletes may have positive effects, including improvements in noticing brief stimuli and detecting small changes in motion, according to tests run by a team of psychologists at Duke University.

Student research assistant Benjamin Crisp dons strobe eyewear that was developed to improve the visual abilities of athletes. Images courtesy of Les Todd, Duke University.

The eyewear, which was developed by Nike and marketed as Nike Vapor Strobe, has lenses that alternate between clear and opaque states, producing a strobe experience. It features eight different rates, with a constant 100 ms of clear vision between each opaque phase. At its fastest flashing rate, the eyewear becomes opaque for 67 ms, six times per second; at its slowest, it is opaque for 900 ms, or 90 percent of each second.

Nearly 500 people participated in more than 1200 training sessions, having their visual abilities tested before and after they wore the eyewear. Tests included visual motor tasks such as catching and throwing a ball, as well as computer-based tests.

Once the eyewear is removed, the theory put forth, the brain’s visual processing has been trained to see the ball’s path more clearly.

Mike Schallmo (left) and Crisp (right), both student research assistants at Duke University, demonstrate strobe eyewear they helped develop, while postdoctoral researcher Gregory Appelbaum and assistant professor Stephen Mitroff look on.

Because this was a preliminary study, the researchers were unsure what measures would give them the clearest results; therefore, they tried several different lengths of exposure to the eyewear, different strobe rates, and many physical and computer-based tasks. While performance improved in some tests, not all indicated changes. The team measured slight improvements in some tests after only two 25-minute training sessions, while in other cases there was no change.

After training with the eyewear, participants were more sensitive to small amounts of motion and were better able to pick up visual details that were available only for about one-tenth of a second. Preliminary data also suggests possible improvement in dribbling skills tests for the varsity soccer players who participated in the study.

Schallmo and Crisp with Mitroff (center).

While the results show that the strobe-like eyewear does affect vision performance, there is still much more to learn, the psychologists said. They will conduct more research to determine how much exposure is needed to have an effect, how long the effect may last and which skills are affected most. Despite lingering questions, the team said that the eyewear has proved to be a great tool for looking at how the brain adapts to changing conditions and how visual cognition works.

Findings were presented May 6, 2011, in a poster session at the Vision Sciences Society in Naples, Fla.

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