Believing is seeing: using mindlessness (mindfully) to improve visual acuity

Psychol Sci. 2010 May;21(5):661-6. doi: 10.1177/0956797610366543. Epub 2010 Mar 19.


These experiments show that vision can be improved by manipulating mind-sets. In Study 1, participants were primed with the mind-set that pilots have excellent vision. Vision improved for participants who experientially became pilots (by flying a realistic flight simulator) compared with control participants (who performed the same task in an ostensibly broken flight simulator). Participants in an eye-exercise condition (primed with the mind-set that improvement occurs with practice) and a motivation condition (primed with the mind-set "try and you will succeed") demonstrated visual improvement relative to the control group. In Study 2, participants were primed with the mind-set that athletes have better vision than nonathletes. Controlling for arousal, doing jumping jacks resulted in greater visual acuity than skipping (perceived to be a less athletic activity than jumping jacks). Study 3 took advantage of the mind-set primed by the traditional eye chart: Because letters get progressively smaller on successive lines, people expect that they will be able to read the first few lines only. When participants viewed a reversed chart and a shifted chart, they were able to see letters they could not see before. Thus, mind-set manipulation can counteract physiological limits imposed on vision.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Awareness*
  • Cues
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Set, Psychology*
  • Vision Tests
  • Visual Acuity*
  • Young Adult