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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2011 Feb 28;52(2):1164-70. doi: 10.1167/iovs.10-6034. Print 2011 Feb.

Improving reading speed for people with central vision loss through perceptual learning.

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School of Optometry, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA.



Perceptual learning has been shown to be effective in improving visual functions in the normal adult visual system, as well as in adults with amblyopia. In this study, the feasibility of applying perceptual learning to enhance reading speed in people with long-standing central vision loss was evaluated.


Six observers (mean age, 73.8) with long-standing central vision loss practiced an oral sentence-reading task, with words presented sequentially using rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). A pre-test consisted of measurements of visual acuities, RSVP reading speeds for six print sizes, the location of the preferred retinal locus for fixation (fPRL), and fixation stability. Training consisted of six weekly sessions of RSVP reading, with 300 sentences presented per session. A post-test, identical with the pre-test, followed the training.


All observers showed improved RSVP reading speed after training. The improvement averaged 53% (range, 34-70%). Comparisons of pre- and post-test measurements revealed little changes in visual acuity, critical print size, location of the fPRL, and fixation stability.


The specificity of the learning effect, and the lack of changes to the fPRL location and fixation stability suggest that the improvements are not due to observers adopting a retinal location with better visual capability, or an improvement in fixation. Rather, the improvements are likely to represent genuine plasticity of the visual system despite the older ages of the observers, coupled with long-standing sensory deficits. Perceptual learning might be an effective way of enhancing visual performance for people with central vision loss.

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