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Scaffolding depth cues and perceptual learning in VR to train stereovision: a proof of concept pilot study.

Abstract

Stereopsis is a valuable feature of human visual perception, which may be impaired or absent in amblyopia and/or strabismus but can be improved through perceptual learning (PL) and videogames. The development of consumer virtual reality (VR) may provide a useful tool for improving stereovision. We report a proof of concept study, especially useful for strabismic patients and/or those with reduced or null stereoacuity. Our novel VR PL strategy is based on a principled approach which included aligning and balancing the perceptual input to the two eyes, dichoptic tasks, exposure to large disparities, scaffolding depth cues and perception for action. We recruited ten adults with normal vision and ten with binocular impairments. Participants played two novel PL games (DartBoard and Halloween) using a VR-HMD. Each game consisted of three depth cue scaffolding conditions, starting with non-binocular and binocular cues to depth and ending with only binocular disparity. All stereo-anomalous participants improved in the game and most (9/10) showed transfer to clinical and psychophysical stereoacuity tests (mean stereoacuity changed from 569 to 296 arc seconds, P < 0.0001). Stereo-normal participants also showed in-game improvement, which transferred to psychophysical tests (mean stereoacuity changed from 23 to a ceiling value of 20 arc seconds, P = 0.001). We conclude that a VR PL approach based on depth cue scaffolding may provide a useful method for improving stereoacuity, and the in-game performance metrics may provide useful insights into principles for effective treatment of stereo anomalies.This study was registered as a clinical trial on 04/05/2010 with the identifier NCT01115283 at ClinicalTrials.gov.

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