Learning to read causes the development of a letter- and word-selective region known as the visual word form area (VWFA) within the human ventral visual object stream. Why does a reading-selective region develop at this anatomical location? According to one hypothesis, the VWFA develops at the nexus of visual inputs from retinotopic cortices and linguistic input from the frontotemporal language network because reading involves extracting linguistic information from visual symbols. Surprisingly, the anatomical location of the VWFA is also active when blind individuals read Braille by touch, suggesting that vision is not required for the development of the VWFA. In this study, we tested the alternative prediction that VWFA development is in fact influenced by visual experience. We predicted that in the absence of vision, the "VWFA" is incorporated into the frontotemporal language network and participates in high-level language processing. Congenitally blind (n = 10, 9 female, 1 male) and sighted control (n = 15, 9 female, 6 male), male and female participants each took part in two functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments: (1) word reading (Braille for blind and print for sighted participants), and (2) listening to spoken sentences of different grammatical complexity (both groups). We find that in blind, but not sighted participants, the anatomical location of the VWFA responds both to written words and to the grammatical complexity of spoken sentences. This suggests that in blindness, this region takes on high-level linguistic functions, becoming less selective for reading. More generally, the current findings suggest that experience during development has a major effect on functional specialization in the human cortex.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The visual word form area (VWFA) is a region in the human cortex that becomes specialized for the recognition of written letters and words. Why does this particular brain region become specialized for reading? We tested the hypothesis that the VWFA develops within the ventral visual stream because reading involves extracting linguistic information from visual symbols. Consistent with this hypothesis, we find that in congenitally blind Braille readers, but not sighted readers of print, the VWFA region is active during grammatical processing of spoken sentences. These results suggest that visual experience contributes to VWFA specialization, and that different neural implementations of reading are possible.
Crowding, the inability to recognize an individual object in clutter (Bouma H. Nature 226: 177-178, 1970), is considered a major impediment to object recognition in peripheral vision. Despite its significance, the cortical loci of crowding are not well understood. In particular, the role of the primary visual cortex (V1) remains unclear. Here we utilize a diagnostic feature of crowding to identify the earliest cortical locus of crowding. Controlling for other factors, radially arranged flankers induce more crowding than tangentially arranged ones (Toet A, Levi DM. Vision Res 32: 1349-1357, 1992). We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the change in mean blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) response due to the addition of a middle letter between a pair of radially or tangentially arranged flankers. Consistent with the previous finding that crowding is associated with a reduced BOLD response [Millin R, Arman AC, Chung ST, Tjan BS. Cereb Cortex (July 5, 2013). doi:10.1093/cercor/bht159], we found that the BOLD signal evoked by the middle letter depended on the arrangement of the flankers: less BOLD response was associated with adding the middle letter between radially arranged flankers compared with adding it between tangentially arranged flankers. This anisotropy in BOLD response was present as early as V1 and remained significant in downstream areas. The effect was observed while subjects' attention was diverted away from the testing stimuli. Contrast detection threshold for the middle letter was unaffected by flanker arrangement, ruling out surround suppression of contrast response as a major factor in the observed BOLD anisotropy. Our findings support the view that V1 contributes to crowding.
Visual localization during saccadic eye movements is prone to error. Flashes shortly before and after the onset of saccades are usually perceived to shift towards the saccade target, creating a "compression" pattern. Typically, the saccade landing point coincides with a salient saccade target. We investigated whether the mislocalization focus follows the actual saccade landing point or a salient stimulus. Subjects made saccades to either a target or a memorized location without target. In some conditions, another salient marker was presented between the initial fixation and the saccade landing point. The experiments were conducted on both black and picture backgrounds. The results show that: (a) when a saccade target or a marker (spatially separated from the saccade landing point) was present, the compression pattern of mislocalization was significantly stronger than in conditions without them, for both black and picture background conditions, and (b) the mislocalization focus tended towards the salient stimulus regardless of whether it was the saccade target or the marker. Our results suggest that a salient stimulus presented in the scene may have an attracting effect and therefore contribute to the non-uniformity of saccadic mislocalization of a probing flash.
PURPOSE: To measure natural image search performance in patients with central vision impairment. To evaluate the performance effect for a JPEG based image enhancement technique using the visual search task. METHODS: One hundred and fifty JPEG images were presented on a touch screen monitor in either an enhanced or original version to 19 patients (visual acuity 0.4-1.2 logMAR, 6/15 to 6/90, 20/50 to 20/300) and seven normally sighted controls (visual acuity -0.12 to 0.1 logMAR, 6/4.5 to 6/7.5, 20/15 to 20/25). Each image fell into one of three categories: faces, indoors, and collections. The enhancement was realized by moderately boosting a mid-range spatial frequency band in the discrete cosine transform (DCT) coefficients of the image luminance component. Participants pointed to an object in a picture that matched a given target displayed at the upper-left corner of the monitor. Search performance was quantified by the percentage of correct responses, the median search time of correct responses, and an 'integrated performance' measure - the area under the curve of cumulative correct response rate over search time. RESULTS: Patients were able to perform the search tasks but their performance was substantially worse than the controls. Search performances for the three image categories were significantly different (p <= 0.001) for all the participants, with searching for faces being the most difficult. When search time and correct response were analyzed separately, the effect of enhancement led to increase in one measure but decrease in another for many patients. Using the integrated performance, it was found that search performance declined with decrease in acuity (p = 0.005). An improvement with enhancement was found mainly for the patients whose acuity ranged from 0.4 to 0.8 logMAR (6/15 to 6/38, 20/50 to 20/125). Enhancement conferred a small but significant improvement in integrated performance for indoor and collection images (p = 0.025) in the patients. CONCLUSION: Search performance for natural images can be measured in patients with impaired vision to evaluate the effect of image enhancement. Patients with moderate vision loss might benefit from the moderate level of enhancement used here.
We have developed a low-cost, practical gaze-contingent display in which natural images are presented to the observer with dioptric blur and stereoscopic disparity that are dependent on the three-dimensional structure of natural scenes. Our system simulates a distribution of retinal blur and depth similar to that experienced in real-world viewing conditions by emmetropic observers. We implemented the system using light-field photographs taken with a plenoptic camera which supports digital refocusing anywhere in the images. We coupled this capability with an eye-tracking system and stereoscopic rendering. With this display, we examine how the time course of binocular fusion depends on depth cues from blur and stereoscopic disparity in naturalistic images. Our results show that disparity and peripheral blur interact to modify eye-movement behavior and facilitate binocular fusion, and the greatest benefit was gained by observers who struggled most to achieve fusion. Even though plenoptic images do not replicate an individual’s aberrations, the results demonstrate that a naturalistic distribution of depth-dependent blur may improve 3-D virtual reality, and that interruptions of this pattern (e.g., with intraocular lenses) which flatten the distribution of retinal blur may adversely affect binocular fusion.
BACKGROUND: Spontaneous recovery of visual loss resulting from injury to the brain is variable. A variety of traditional rehabilitative strategies, including the use of prisms or compensatory saccadic eye movements, have been used successfully to improve visual function and quality-of-life for patients with homonymous hemianopia. More recently, repetitive visual stimulation of the blind area has been reported to be of benefit in expanding the field of vision. EVIDENCE ACQUISITION: We performed a literature review with main focus on clinical studies spanning from 1963 to 2016, including 52 peer-reviewed articles, relevant cross-referenced citations, editorials, and reviews. RESULTS: Repetitive visual stimulation is reported to expand the visual field, although the interpretation of results is confounded by a variety of methodological factors and conflicting outcomes from different research groups. Many studies used subjective assessments of vision and did not include a sufficient number of subjects or controls. CONCLUSIONS: The available clinical evidence does not strongly support claims of visual restoration using repetitive visual stimulation beyond the time that spontaneous visual recovery might occur. This lack of firm supportive evidence does not preclude the potential of real benefit demonstrated in laboratories. Additional well-designed clinical studies with adequate controls and methods to record ocular fixation are needed.
In the so-called McGurk illusion, when the synchronized presentation of the visual stimulus /ga/ is paired with the auditory stimulus /ba/, people in general hear it as /da/. Multisensory integration processing underlying this illusion seems to occur within the Superior Temporal Sulcus (STS). Herein, we present evidence demonstrating that bilateral cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of this area can decrease the McGurk illusion-type responses. Additionally, we show that the manipulation of this audio-visual integrated output occurs irrespective of the number of eye-fixations on the mouth of the speaker. Bilateral anodal tDCS of the Parietal Cortex also modulates the illusion, but in the opposite manner, inducing more illusion-type responses. This is the first demonstration of using non-invasive brain stimulation to modulate multisensory speech perception in an illusory context (i.e., both increasing and decreasing illusion-type responses to a verbal audio-visual integration task). These findings provide clear evidence that both the superior temporal and parietal areas contribute to multisensory integration processing related to speech perception. Specifically, STS seems fundamental for the temporal synchronization and integration of auditory and visual inputs. For its part, posterior parietal cortex (PPC) may adjust the arrival of incoming audio and visual information to STS thereby enhancing their interaction in this latter area.
Computer based video games are receiving great interest as a means to learn and acquire new skills. As a novel approach to teaching navigation skills in the blind, we have developed Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES); a virtual reality environment set within the context of a video game metaphor. Despite the fact that participants were naïve to the overall purpose of the software, we found that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building using audio based cues alone. This was confirmed by a series of behavioral performance tests designed to assess the transfer of acquired spatial information to a large-scale, real-world indoor navigation task. Furthermore, learning the spatial layout through a goal directed gaming strategy allowed for the mental manipulation of spatial information as evidenced by enhanced navigation performance when compared to an explicit route learning strategy. We conclude that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the software greatly engages the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. This in turn generates an accurate sense of a large-scale three-dimensional space and facilitates the learning and transfer of navigation skills to the physical world.
Purpose: To investigate the roles of motion perception and visual acuity in driving hazard detection. Methods: Detection of driving hazard was tested based on video and still-frames of real-world road scenes. In the experiment using videos, 20 normally sighted participants were tested under four conditions: with or without motion interruption by interframe mask, and with or without simulated low visual acuity (20/120 on average) by using a diffusing filter. Videos were down-sampled to 2.5 Hz, to allow the addition of motion interrupting masks between the frames to maintain video durations. In addition, single still frames extracted from the videos were shown in random order to eight normally sighted participants, who judged whether the frames were during ongoing hazards, with or without the diffuser. Sensitivity index d-prime (d') was compared between unmasked motion ( = 20) and still frame conditions ( = 8). Results: In the experiment using videos, there was a significant reduction in a combined performance score (taking account of reaction time and detection rate) when the motion was disrupted ( = 0.016). The diffuser did not affect the scores ( = 0.419). The score reduction was mostly due to a decrease in the detection rate ( = 0.002), not the response time ( = 0.148). The d' of participants significantly decreased ( < 0.001) from 2.24 with unmasked videos to 0.68 with still frames. Low visual acuity also had a significant effect on the d' ( = 0.004), but the change was relatively small, from 2.03 without to 1.56 with the diffuser. Conclusions: Motion perception plays a more important role than visual acuity for detecting driving hazards. Translational Relevance: Motion perception may be a relevant criterion for fitness to drive.
When radiologists search for a specific target (e.g., lung cancer), they are also asked to report any other clinically significant "incidental findings" (e.g., pneumonia). These incidental findings are missed at an undesirably high rate. In an effort to understand and reduce these errors, Wolfe et al. (Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2:35, 2017) developed "mixed hybrid search" as a model system for incidental findings. In this task, non-expert observers memorize six targets: half of these targets are specific images (analogous to the suspected diagnosis in the clinical task). The other half are broader, categorically defined targets, like "animals" or "cars" (analogous to the less well-specified incidental findings). In subsequent search through displays for any instances of any of the targets, observers miss about one third of the categorical targets, mimicking the incidental finding problem. In the present paper, we attempted to reduce the number of errors in the mixed hybrid search task with the goal of finding methods that could be deployed in a clinical setting. In Experiments 1a and 1b, we reminded observers about the categorical targets by inserting non-search trials in which categorical targets were clearly marked. In Experiment 2, observers responded twice on each trial: once to confirm the presence or absence of the specific targets, and once to confirm the presence or absence of the categorical targets. In Experiment 3, observers were required to confirm the presence or absence of every target on every trial using a checklist procedure. Only Experiment 3 produced a marked decline in categorical target errors, but at the cost of a substantial increase in response time.
Numerous studies have found that congenitally blind individuals have better verbal memory than their normally sighted counterparts. However, it is not known whether this reflects superiority of verbal or memory abilities. In order to distinguish between these possibilities, we tested congenitally blind participants and normally sighted control participants, matched for age and education, on a range of verbal and spatial tasks. Congenitally blind participants were significantly better than sighted controls on all the verbal tasks but the groups did not differ significantly on the spatial tasks. Thus, the congenitally blind appear to have superior verbal, but not spatial, abilities. This may reflect greater reliance on verbal information and the involvement of visual cortex in language processing in the congenitally blind.
In visual search tasks, observers can guide their attention towards items in the visual field that share features with the target item. In this series of studies, we examined the time course of guidance toward a subset of items that have the same color as the target item. Landolt Cs were placed on 16 colored disks. Fifteen distractor Cs had gaps facing up or down while one target C had a gap facing left or right. Observers searched for the target C and reported which side contained the gap as quickly as possible. In the absence of other information, observers must search at random through the Cs. However, during the trial, the disks changed colors. Twelve disks were now of one color and four disks were of another color. Observers knew that the target C would always be in the smaller color set. The experimental question was how quickly observers could guide their attention to the smaller color set. Results indicate that observers could not make instantaneous use of color information to guide the search, even when they knew which two colors would be appearing on every trial. In each study, it took participants 200-300 ms to fully utilize the color information once presented. Control studies replicated the finding with more saturated colors and with colored C stimuli (rather than Cs on colored disks). We conclude that segregation of a display by color for the purposes of guidance takes 200-300 ms to fully develop.
Spatial patterns presented on the tongue using electro-tactile sensory substitution devices (SSDs) have been suggested to be recognized better by tracing the pattern with the tip of the tongue. We examined if the functional benefit of tracing is overcoming the poor sensitivity or low spatial resolution at the back of the tongue or alternatively compensating for limited information processing capacity by fixating on a segment of the spatial pattern at a time. Using a commercially available SSD, the BrainPort, we compared letter recognition performance in three presentation modes; tracing, static, and drawing. Stimulation intensity was either constant or increased from the tip to the back of the tongue to partially compensate for the decreasing sensitivity. Recognition was significantly better for tracing, compared to static and drawing conditions. Confusion analyses showed that letters were confused based on their characteristics presented near the tip in static and drawing conditions. The results suggest that recognition performance is limited by the poor spatial resolution at the back of the tongue, and tracing seems to be an effective strategy to overcome this. Compensating for limited information processing capacity or poor sensitivity by drawing or increasing intensity at the back, respectively, does not improve the performance.
PURPOSE: To determine whether formal ophthalmology evaluation is necessary after operative repair of orbital fractures and the association of an ocular injury to the severity of facial injury. PATIENTS AND METHODS: This was a retrospective cohort study of patients with orbital fractures undergoing operative repair from 2005 to 2013. Subjects were included if they had undergone reconstruction of orbital floor fractures and had data from pre- and postoperative examinations by the oral and maxillofacial surgery and ophthalmology services available. The predictor variables included the service performing the ocular examination (oral and maxillofacial surgery or ophthalmology) and the number of fractures present. The outcome variables were the presence of pre- and postoperative ocular injuries. Logistic regression models were used to determine the relationship of the fracture number to ocular injury. RESULTS: A total of 28 subjects had undergone repair of orbital fractures with preoperative and postoperative examinations performed by both services. Preoperative ocular injuries were found in 17 of the 28 subjects. Those detected by oral and maxillofacial surgeons were limited to changes in visual acuity, pupillary response, and extraocular muscle dysfunction in 11 subjects. Two subjects had new postoperative ocular findings that were considered minor and did not alter management. An increasing number of facial fractures was associated with an increased risk of ocular trauma. Those with 3 or more fractures had an odds ratio of 14.625 (95% confidence interval, 2.191 to 97.612, P = .006) for the presence of ocular injury. CONCLUSIONS: Operative repair of orbital fractures did not lead to new ocular injuries that would change the management. Thus, those without preoperative ocular injuries will not require a formal postoperative ophthalmology examination. However, the subjects with more fractures had an increased likelihood of ocular injuries.
PURPOSE: Prisms used for field expansion are limited by the optical scotoma at a prism apex (apical scotoma). For a patient with two functioning eyes, fitting prisms unilaterally allows the other eye to compensate for the apical scotoma. A monocular patient's field loss cannot be expanded with a conventional or Fresnel prism because of the apical scotoma. A newly invented optical device, the multiplexing prism (MxP), was developed to overcome the apical scotoma limitation in monocular field expansion. METHODS: A Fresnel-prism-like device with alternating prism and flat elements superimposes shifted and see-through views, thus creating the (monocular) visual confusion required for field expansion and eliminating the apical scotoma. Several implementations are demonstrated and preliminarily evaluated for different monocular conditions with visual field loss. The field expansion of the MxP is compared with the effect of conventional prisms using calculated and measured perimetry. RESULTS: Field expansion without apical scotomas is shown to be effective for monocular patients with hemianopia or constricted peripheral field. The MxPs are shown to increase the nasal field for a patient with only one eye and for patients with bitemporal hemianopia. The MxPs placed at the far temporal field are shown to expand the normal visual field. The ability to control the contrast ratio between the two images is verified. CONCLUSIONS: A novel optical device is demonstrated to have the potential for field expansion technology in a variety of conditions. The devices may be inexpensive and can be constructed in a cosmetically acceptable format.
On the occasion of being awarded the Prentice Medal, I was asked to summarize my translational journey. Here I describe the process of becoming a low-vision rehabilitation clinician and researcher, frustrated by the unavailability of effective treatments for some conditions. This led to decades of working to understand patients' needs and the complexities and subtleties of their visual systems and conditions. It was followed by many iterations of developing vision aids and the techniques needed to objectively evaluate their benefit. I specifically address one path: the invention and development of peripheral prisms to expand the visual fields of patients with homonymous hemianopia, leading to our latest multiperiscopic prism (mirror-based design) with its clear 45° field-of-view image shift.
PURPOSE: Horizontal peripheral prisms for hemianopia provide field expansion above and below the horizontal meridian; however, there is a vertical gap leaving the central area (important for driving) without expansion. In the oblique design, tilting the bases of both prism segments toward the horizontal meridian moves the field expansion area vertically and centrally (closing the central gap) while the prisms remain in the peripheral location. However, tilting the prisms results also in a reduction of the lateral field expansion. Higher prism powers are needed to counter this effect. METHODS: We developed, implemented, and tested a series of designs aimed at increasing the prism power to reduce the central gap while maintaining wide lateral expansion. The designs included inserting the peripheral prisms into carrier lenses that included yoked prism in the opposite direction, combination of two Fresnel segments attached at the base and angled to each other (bi-part prisms), and creating Fresnel prism-like segments from nonparallel periscopic mirror pairs (reflective prisms). RESULTS: A modest increase in lateral power was achieved with yoked-prism carriers. Bi-part combination of 36Δ Fresnel segments provided high power with some reduction in image quality. Fresnel reflective prism segments have potential for high power with superior optical quality but may be limited in field extent or by interruptions of the expanded field. Extended apical scotomas, even with unilateral fitting, may limit the utility of very high power prisms. The high-power bi-part and reflective prisms enable a wider effective eye scanning range (more than 15 degrees) into the blind hemifield. CONCLUSIONS: Conventional prisms of powers higher than the available 57Δ are limited by the binocular impact of a wider apical scotoma and a reduced effective eye scanning range to the blind side. The various designs that we developed may overcome these limitations and find use in various other field expansion applications.
PURPOSE: A pocket-sized collision warning device equipped with a video camera was developed to predict impending collisions based on time to collision rather than proximity. A study was conducted in a high density obstacle course to evaluate the effect of the device on collision avoidance in people with peripheral field loss (PFL). METHODS: The 41 meter long loop-shaped obstacle course consisted of 46 stationary obstacles from floor to head level, and oncoming pedestrians. Twenty five patients with tunnel vision (n = 13) or hemianopia (n = 12) completed 4 consecutive loops with and without the device, while not using any other habitual mobility aid. Walking direction and device usage order were counterbalanced. Number of collisions and preferred percentage of walking speed (PPWS) were compared within subjects. RESULTS: Collisions were reduced significantly by about 37% (p < 0.001) with the device (Floor-level obstacles were excluded because the device was not designed for them). No patient had more collisions when using the device. While the PPWS also reduced with the device from 52% to 49% (p = 0.053), this did not account for the lower number of collisions, as the changes in collisions and PPWS were not correlated (p = 0.516). CONCLUSIONS: The device may help patients with a wide range of PFL avoid collisions with high-level obstacles and barely affect their walking speed.
Purpose: Peripheral field loss (PFL) due to retinitis pigmentosa, choroideremia, or glaucoma often results in a highly constricted residual central field, which makes it difficult for patients to avoid collision with approaching pedestrians. We developed a virtual environment to evaluate the ability of patients to detect pedestrians and judge potential collisions. We validated the system with both PFL patients and normally sighted subjects with simulated PFL. We also tested whether properly placed high-power prisms may improve pedestrian detection. Methods: A virtual park-like open space was rendered using a driving simulator (configured for walking speeds), and pedestrians in testing scenarios appeared within and outside the residual central field. Nine normally sighted subjects and eight PFL patients performed the pedestrian detection and collision judgment tasks. The performance of the subjects with simulated PFL was further evaluated with field of view expanding prisms. Results: The virtual system for testing pedestrian detection and collision judgment was validated. The performance of PFL patients and normally sighted subjects with simulated PFL were similar. The prisms for simulated PFL improved detection rates, reduced detection response times, and supported reasonable collision judgments in the prism-expanded field; detections and collision judgments in the residual central field were not influenced negatively by the prisms. Conclusions: The scenarios in a virtual environment are suitable for evaluating PFL and the impact of field of view expanding devices. Translational Relevance: This study validated an objective means to evaluate field expansion devices in reproducible near-real-life settings.
The spatial representation of numerical and temporal information is thought to be rooted in our multisensory experiences. Accordingly, we may expect visual or auditory deprivation to affect the way we represent numerical magnitude and time spatially. Here, we systematically review recent findings on how blind and deaf individuals represent abstract concepts such as magnitude and time (e.g., past/future, serial order of events) in a spatial format. Interestingly, available evidence suggests that sensory deprivation does not prevent the spatial "re-mapping" of abstract information, but differences compared to normally sighted and hearing individuals may emerge depending on the specific dimension considered (i.e., numerical magnitude, time as past/future, serial order). Herein we discuss how the study of sensory deprived populations may shed light on the specific, and possibly distinct, mechanisms subserving the spatial representation of these concepts. Furthermore, we pinpoint unresolved issues that need to be addressed by future studies to grasp a full understanding of the spatial representation of abstract information associated with visual and auditory deprivation.