How Your Mind Affects Your Vision

Woman uses mindfulness to focus on computer

Researchers have known for years that your thoughts and perceptions can cause or worsen health conditions and affect how quickly you recover from an illness. Until recently, not much was known about the way your mind influences your vision. That's changed, thanks to several groundbreaking research studies.

Your Mindset Can Improve Visual Acuity

Mindset studies conducted by Harvard University researcher Ellen Langer and her colleagues provide a fascinating look at the way our attitudes affect vision. Your mindset consists of your beliefs about your abilities, personality, intelligence, and other factors. During the first study, 19 members of a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program were asked to operate a flight simulator while pretending that they were pilots. The researchers didn't mention anything about vision to the participants, but the ROTC members certainly knew that pilots need excellent vision.

During the experiment, participants were asked to identify markings on plane wings that contained a line from an eye chart while performing simple maneuvers. Other participants were told that the simulator was broken, but that they would participate in the experiment anyway. Forty-two percent of the participants who served as pilot role players experienced an improvement in visual acuity (the ability to see images clearly), while vision didn't improve in any of the members of the non-pilot group.

Researchers conducted additional studies to ensure that the results were due to mindset and not other factors. In one study, college students were told that researchers believed that exercise improved vision. After completing 15 jumping jacks, 37.5 percent of the jumping jack group improved their vision. Students who were assigned to a group who only skipped for a minute didn't experience any changes in vision.

Mindfulness May Also Play a Role in Good Vision

Mindfulness is credited with improving health problems ranging from high blood pressure to anxiety, but the practice may also offer benefits for your vision. In fact, people who embraced mindfulness techniques achieved better results in vision studies than those didn't take advantage of the mind-enhancing technique.

In one study published in Consciousness and Cognition, researchers examined the effect of mindfulness on saccadic eye movements. Saccades are the rapid-fire movements you make while changing your focus from one object to another. The movements help you keep up with the action on a basketball court or read words printed on a page.

If you have a disorder that affects saccadic movements, you may lose your place easily when reading, move your head to follow the words in a book, or have difficulty comprehending or remembering what you read. The problem can also affect sports performance.

30 of the 60 study participants were practitioners of mindfulness, a form of meditation. During mindfulness sessions, practitioners focus on their breathing, their environment, and the way their bodies feel. When thoughts cross their minds, they acknowledge them without passing judgment on their appropriateness. Mindfulness allows participants to focus on the present instead of worrying about the future or obsessing about the past.

Results of the study demonstrated that eye movements were smoother and less prone to errors in participants who practiced mindfulness. Although relaxation may play a part in the positive results, some scientists believe that practicing mindfulness may actually change brain structure.

Harvard University-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital noted that participants who practiced 27 minutes of mindfulness daily had increased grey matter density in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that plays an important role in memory and learning, and also in parts of the brain associated with compassion and introspection.

The study confirmed the plasticity of the brain, a fact well-known to vision therapists. In fact, vision therapy takes advantage of the brain's ability to adapt to improve the connection between the eyes and brain. Used in both children and adults, vision therapy can reduce eyestrain and headaches, boost school and sports performance, and improve eye teaming, tracking, focusing, and perceptual issues.

Would you like to find out if your vision issue can be improved with vision therapy? Contact us to schedule an appointment for a comprehensive eye examination.


The VisionHelp Blog: Mindfulness and Vision: Lessons from Langer’s Experiments, 7/1018

Research Gate: Believing is Seeing, 3/19/10

The Harvard Gazette: Eight Weeks to a Better Brain, 1/21/11

Science Direct: Consciousness and Cognition: The Mindful Eye, 2/17 How to Practice Mindfulness, 12/12/18


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