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Study reveals that our eyes suck, so that’s good to know

Published Jun 10th, 2020 5:33PM EDT
eye power
Image: Suren Manvelyan/Shutterstock

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  • Human eye power is lacking when it comes to detecting color in our peripheral vision, a new study finds.
  • Tests revealed that many people didn’t notice when up to 95% of the color in their visual range was removed.
  • The researchers say that our brains are filling in the gaps created by our vision.

Humans have a lot of advantages over other animals, but our (alleged) superiority mostly comes down to our brains. Our eyes, on the other hand, aren’t really anything special, especially when compared to some other species that can spot things humans would seriously struggle with. Now, a new study reveals that the way our brains process images from our eyes also leaves something to be desired.

The study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on a feature of our vision called color awareness. Color awareness is the level at which we detect changes in color, or how sensitive we are to color in various parts of our vision. In this particular piece of research, our color awareness in our peripheral vision is revealed to be, well, pretty poor.

Your peripheral vision stretches roughly 210 degrees of our 360-degree surroundings. To test just how sensitive we are to color in the areas on the edges of our version, the researchers equipped volunteers with virtual reality headsets that allowed them to control the color saturation of their digital surroundings.

What the scientists found was that while color awareness was high in the center of a person’s vision, humans are apparently far less sensitive to color in the periphery of their visual range. In fact, in their testing, the team found that roughly a third of people didn’t even notice a difference when only the central five percent of their visual field was colored, meaning they had no idea that 95% of what their eyes were seeing was being presented in black and white.

That’s a really stunning discovery and shows that while we know our peripheral vision is sensitive to movement, it’s quite poor when it comes to detecting color. Imagine if only a small, 5% slice of the center of a TV screen was shown in color and the rest in black and white. For a large chunk of the participants, they didn’t notice when their visual field was modified in this manner. Even for those that reported noticing the more drastic changes, they still fell short in detecting desaturation of color in their periphery in other less extreme tests.

“We were amazed by how oblivious participants were when color was removed from up to 95 percent of their visual world,” Caroline Robertson of Dartmouth, senior author of the study, said in a statement. “Our results show that our intuitive sense of a rich, colorful visual world is largely incorrect. Our brain is likely filling-in much of our perceptual experience.”

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