By Henry Phillips
on 2.19.14

We certainly wish we could hit a 95 mph fastball. In lieu of that pipe dream, though, we’ll happily take the ability to see a 95 mph fastball better while whiffing. Aaron Seitz — a neuroscientist at The University of California Riverside (UCR) — seems to have an answer with a new eye training app called UltimEyes ($6). And his creation may have more serious consequences than an increase in homers.

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The iPad and computer app works on a principle called neuroplasticity, a word that has launched a thousand apps over the past decade or so. In its basic guise, neuroplasticity is the relatively nascent idea that the brain can be exercised much in the way that muscles can and that targeted exercises can cause drastic improvement in things — like memory and intelligence — that we had previously deemed innate and inflexible. The most popular apps involving the principle so far have been Lumosity and several others, which promise increased brain function, usually in the form of improved memory. UltimEyes ventures outside of what’s being done with other “brain training” apps and into the sensory world, and its impressive results after a relatively short two-month training regimen demand attention.

While not entirely new, the idea of eyesight training hasn’t been as widely popularized as its IQ and memory-boosting counterparts. Seitz sought to bring it into the fore by applying his training program to the great American pastime and test it on UCR’s baseball team. The results of putting 19 players (here, for those with a thing for P-stats and Standard Error) through the regimen are impressive to say the least. The players, who had slightly above-average vision at the beginning of the test, showed a 31 percent improvement in vision, and seven players ended up with insane 20/7.5 vision (what the average person can see 7.5 feet away, they can see from 20 feet away). Not only were raw vision statistics up, but so were the team’s run creation and win/loss record. While some of the larger-scale baseball statistics might seem a like a bit of a reach, things like a statistically significant drop in strikeouts among trained players seem entirely reasonable and impressive.

Eye-Training-Ambiance-Gear-Patrol

The app actually has little to do with eyes or eye muscles but rather relies on training how your brain recognizes images. Specifically, it focuses on quickly spotting inconspicuous fuzzy blobs called Gabor Patches. Recent neuroscience research has shown that the visual cortex of the brain breaks down incoming images into these Gabor Patches as it processes what the eyes see. Directly confronting users with these patches theoretically acts like very concentrated muscle training and causes more improvement in less time than other images. Using the app is as simple as completing the static (big group of patches, click all of them) and dynamic (one patch at a time, find and click) exercises as fast as possible. The best results are seen after 32 25-minute sessions over the span of eight weeks.

Brain training is nothing new, but using it to significantly improve something as important as vision with relative ease is. UltimEyes’s sure-fire popularity should also prove a major step for brain training in general. Even — and perhaps especially — beyond its sporting applications, UltimEyes and other neuroplasticity-utilizing apps are demonstrating a fundamental shift in what our brains, and our eyes by association, can achieve.

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