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No. 71 (December 2003)

Eye Tracks
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

When last I checked, around the start of the new millennium, developmental optometry and practitioners were listed under "Behavioral Optometrists" — ditto with opthalmologists — but since then we now see ten pages of listings under "Developmental." The term "developmental" is much more descriptive of the profession. This should make it easier for you to track down and use one more major sets of ways to enhance your abilities, as described in this briefing.

Some of you have seen in one piece or another of my writing how the reflexive movement of our eyes is a key part of how our brain retrieves information. Any area where the eyes do not track smoothly, well and comfortably together represents a type of information, the access to which is thereby hampered, though specific areas will differ from person to person as to what type of information is engaged there.

If you got a pain in the neck every time you started to have a new idea, pretty soon you'd stop having new ideas. That is somewhat how it works with the eyes. Watch someone's eyes when they are talking about how they feel about something. For most people, this involves downward eye movement.

People whose eyes can't track well and comfortably together, following a moving target when it goes through the lower arc of vision, often have trouble accessing their own feelings. As a consequence, in many cases their own feelings aren't real to them, which is why we find most childhood behavior problems and adult offenders with tracking problems in the lower arc. Their own feelings not being real to them, it's hard for them to find the feelings of other people real to them or to be responsive to those feelings.

One of my fond hopes is that some day our schools and pre-schools will screen children for at least that lower-track tracking dysfunction, and give all children opportunity, via Ping-Pong-like games, to train out such glitches before they become lifelong learning and language disabilities and behavior problems. Perhaps we could thereby even empty out our bulging reformatories and jails (two million Americans in this free country of ours now behind bars and another million "needing" to be there!!!). Jails cost more than Harvard, both dollar-wise and in terms of terrible human costs.

Even without misbehavior in the picture, those disabilities in school and in our society are a huge cost, dollar-wise and human-wise, and from this perspective it looks like much or most of those costs could be avoided. This side of such disabilities, each of many of us may have significant inefficiencies in our lives which might be correctable with most remarkable ease.

"Glitches" in eye-tracking or visual tracking dysfunction, indicating a problem, include wobbles of one or both eyes as they track after a moving object; stutter-stops and jumps; and discomfort. The discomfort most often manifests as a blink. If someone blinks fairly consistently, each time the target comes back over a particular part of the field of vision, then there is discomfort and an inefficiency there even if it isn't an actual pain like in my pain-in-the-neck example above.

The good news is that in most instances the glitches can be readily and easily trained away, and when you do that, major and often unexpected areas of your life turn "miraculously" better.

Many glitches will dissolve simply if you make yourself good at Ping-Pong. Most others will dissolve with the often ingenious eye exercises prescribed by a competent developmental optometrist or opthalmologist.

If you have "good days" and "bad days," it might not be bi-polar disorder. It might just be allergy, producing congestion in and around the eyes on the "bad" days. So things you can do to decongest yourself can also get rid of a major part of the incidence of glitches.

One of the most time- and energy-efficient ways to improve your abilities may turn out to be simply going to Google, finding a developmental optometrist near to you, and getting things checked out. That's "developmental" or "behavioral" — interested in how you use your eyes — not the regular optometrist who wants to fit your eyes with a set of crutches and checks only for near-sighted, far-sighted and astigmatic problems.


Checking Your Eyes Without A Professional
The easiest way this side of an optometrist to check how your eyes behave is to have someone else move a pencil tip smoothly back and forth and up and down about two to three feet in front of your eyes, while watching how your eyes track that pencil tip. It's not a speed contest; they don't have to move faster than, say, a half foot or a foot per second. The person moving the target has to move it smoothly — if the target is moved jerkily, the eyes have to track it jerkily. If the target moves smoothly and the eyes track it jerkily, then you've found a glitch.

o How can you check your own eyes? In a mirror?— No. Are you watching the target, or are you watching yourself in the mirror?

o With you yourself pushing that pencil tip around?—No. From inside, you know by feel where the pencil tip is going and can "help your eyes along," instead of testing them or exercising their tracking.

o What you can do to check yourself for glitches in your visual tracking is to go into a very dark room. In that dark room, have a LED light, like those on some radios and alarm clocks. When you move your eyes, the afterimage of that LED light leaves a streak in your field of vision. See if you can get that streak into smooth lines or curves. If, instead, it wobbles, jerks with discontinuities or becomes like a dotted line, you may have a problem well worth checking out and correcting.

Once you've identified a glitch and have a way to start training it smooth, you may have a hugely convenient way to improve your performance and abilities. That is the point of this briefing.

That, and the fact that simply getting good at Ping-Pong will cure a surprising lot of problems.


Read the report in the September 27, 2007, issue of Science Daily on latest research findings of how eye movement can affect problem-solving and cognition.


Comments to:
Win Wenger

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