Put Your Peripheral Vision to the Test
Did you know we use our side vision for many daily activities, like riding a bike, reading or playing basketball? Few people realize they are even using it. Our survival once depended on the quick response of our peripheral vision. A detailed picture, created by our central vision, is only useful in situations where time allows us to focus on the details. But our side vision can help us avoid dangers quickly. In this activity, you will find out how specialized our peripheral, or side vision, is.
This activity is not appropriate for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.
When you look at something, you use central vision to focus on the details, and peripheral (or side) vision to gather information about the surroundings.
The diversification between central and peripheral vision starts in the back of our eyes where we have two types of light-sensitive cells, called cones and rods. Our central vision uses an area densely packed with cones. Cones are sensitive to color and need ample light to function well. Our peripheral vision uses rods and almost no cones. Rods are sensitive to movement and quickly pick up changes in brightness. They function well in a broad range of light conditions.
The diversification continues as signals travel to the brain. Some signaling cells are sensitive to color but not so much to contrast, while other cells signal faster and respond to low-contrast stimuli. Even in the visual cortex of the brain, more neurons will analyze a stimulus picked up by our central vision compared to the same stimulus picked up by our peripheral vision. All of this leads to our color-sensitive, high-resolution central vision and our fast-working, movement-sensitive peripheral vision.
With all this information on our visual system, will you be able to predict what your side vision will perceive? Do this activity to find out!
Extra: Repeat the test in a darkened room after allowing your eyes to adjust to the new situation. Do you expect the results to be different, and if so, how do you expect your outcome to change?
Extra: Repeat the test, but now, ask the helper to wiggle the strips while he or she is moving them along the side of the protractor. Do you expect the outcome to be different, and if so, how do you expect it to change?
Extra: Write a letter or number with pencil or pen on the top two centimeters of the strips. When do you think you will be able to read the letter or number? Perform the test to find out.
Observations and Results
You probably quickly observed something appearing in your side view, but could only later tell the color, and even later, identify the shape. This is what is expected.
Our peripheral vision is quick at detecting that something enters our field of sight, but it is weak at distinguishing color, shape or detail. This is because fewer and different cells in our eye and brain are activated when ‘seeing’ an object with our peripheral vision than when ‘seeing’ the object with our central vision.
Our peripheral vision has evolved since the time of our ancestors to serve us well. It allows us to escape from an approaching danger quickly in dim, as well as bright, light and is very good at noticing movement. This explains the results of some of the extra instructions: dim light conditions still allow you to quickly detect the object with your peripheral vision, and you notice the object even faster when the object is wiggling. Our ancestors did not need to identify the type of danger instantly. To ‘see’ color, shape and details, they could wait until ample light was available, and use their central vision to study a relatively still object.
More to Explore
Sabine De Brabandere, PhD, Science Buddies
Science Buddies |
The human eye, peripheral or side vision, central vision
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