Vision and Shooting research--Long read

This is a discussion on Vision and Shooting research--Long read within the Defensive Carry & Tactical Training forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; VISION AND SHOOTING By Edward C. Godnig, O.D., FCOVD Staff Member, PPSC Information contained within this article will give firearm instructors and marksmanship students a ...

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    Vision and Shooting research--Long read

    VISION AND SHOOTING

    By Edward C. Godnig, O.D., FCOVD
    Staff Member, PPSC


    Information contained within this article will give firearm instructors and marksmanship students a better understanding of how vision significantly contributes to shooting ability and success. Appreciating the dominant role vision plays in directing and monitoring most of the skills used during shooting will prove useful in updating training methodology. The ultimate result of incorporating useful scientific models and research into a training curriculum should result in shooting performance enhancement.

    A comprehensive definition of vision goes beyond the classic 20/20 sight definition. A limited concept of vision is often defined as the ability to see a sharp, clear, 20/20 or better visual acuity image. However, defining vision as a dynamic, learned process of deriving meaning and directing action from light energy establishes a scientific model to better appreciate the importance of vision for accurate and safe shooting.

    Visual skills provide intelligent information to shooters concerning where targets are located, what details and characteristics constitute the target, as well as target speed and direction of movement. This type of spatial, temporal and labeling information is used to make a decision whether or not to coordinate a response to shoot the target. Understanding how visual abilities dominate the process of shooting targets accurately and quickly will provide a framework to improve firearms instruction.

    An overview of the basic anatomy and physiology of how the eye responds to light to begin the visual process establishes a framework of reference. The amount and intensity of light entering the eye dictates what neurological information is sent via the optic nerve to the brain for processing and interpretation. Generally, basic vision function is divided into three levels of light intensity; daylight (photopic), twilight (mesopic) and low light, night (scotopic) vision function.

    Photopic vision functions during bright light levels. Specific neuroreceptors called cones dominate the eye’s response to bright levels of light. The inner photosensitive part of the eye, called the retina, has approximately 7 million cones. Cones are concentrated in the area of the retina that corresponds to straight ahead vision. This anatomical area of the retina is called the macula, and within the macula is a depression called the fovea consisting almost entirely of cones. Cones convert light energy into neural energy sending information via the optic nerve to the brain. Reflected light from targets stimulates cones to send information to the brain about forms, shapes, textures, colors and high contrast sensitivity detection of various line forms. This information is then combined and analyzed by the brain to form an impression of the target.

    From a practical perspective, only in daylight vision can very precise detail and color of a target be seen. Also, precise 3-D depth perception (stereopsis) is only possible during cone-dominated daylight viewing conditions. The highest degree of depth perception occurs when the central, straight ahead fixation point in each eye sends information to the brain in a highly coordinated fashion. During low light conditions, the cones are unable to send precise signals for the brain to process depth.

    Daylight vision enables the eyes to maintain the highest degree and control of eye fixation, the ability to maintain steady and accurate eye position upon a stationary target. Also, the ability to follow a moving target (called pursuit eye movements) functions optimally during photopic viewing conditions. A different type of eye movement of looking from one separated target to another target to another target, etc. (called saccadic eye movements) function much better during bright light conditions than during low light conditions. The voluntary act of allowing the extraocular muscles of the eye to position the eye such that images fall on the retina where cone density is highest is an important component of establishing visual attention on targets.

    The ability to maintain accurate focus (accommodation) on a target requires sufficient light to activate the eye focusing system. The accommodative response functions most efficiently when the target reflects sufficient light to stimulate accurate eye focus. Cones have the best ability to receive the refracted light that the lens inside the eye alters during the act of focusing clearly on a target. When light diminishes, the cone function is suppressed and the quality of the eye focusing ability declines.

    Once bright light declines and darkness emerges, there is a period of light transition (seen during dusk) defined as mesopia. During mesopia there is a shift from cone domination of vision to rod domination of vision. However, during mesopic vision, both rods and cones are partially active. The 120 millions rods are located throughout the entire peripheral retina. The main functions of rods are to send visual information to the brain about movement detection, organizing spatial orientation of where targets may be located in space, and responding to low levels of light that may be present in the environment. During mesopia there is a gradual loss of color perception, gradual loss of discerning target detail, gradual loss of the ability to maintain accurate eye focus upon target, contrast sensitivity losses, and a diminishing ability to maintain accurate three dimensional depth perception. From a practical viewpoint, mesopia is complete when color perception is eliminated, and at this point, the visual system begins to function in scotopia.

    When light levels fall into darkness, the human eye functions in a state of scotopia. Rod physiology does not allow for color vision nor the ability to discern detail. It is estimated that the best visual acuity during scotopia is 20/200. When you change from day vision to darkness immediately (e.g. entering a dark room during the day), the dark adaptation of cones is complete in five minutes, while full rod adaptation takes about 30 minutes. However, rods are more sensitive than cones at the seven-minute mark. Complete dark adaptation requires about 30 minutes for the rods to reach their highest level of sensitivity while in darkness.

    The ability to maintain accurate eye focus upon a target is greatly reduced during scotopic vision function. Other important visual changes that accompany scotopic vision include increased awareness of peripheral light and movement, increased pupil size resulting in less depth of field, reduction in contrast sensitivity, loss of texture perspective, altered target search strategies and variability of eye focus control increases. It follows that detection of the fine details of an object of attention is greatly reduced. Unless there is added light source directed at a target, the human visual system is unable to judge accurately target characteristics such as size, shape, contour, texture and color.

    Above and beyond the basic visual functions that are operational at various lighting conditions, there are specific visual changes that occur when a shooter is threatened by a dangerous situation. The Body Alarm Reaction (BAR) is the body’s response to an unexpected and sudden change in the environment, most commonly initiated during the early stages of a life threatening attack. The BAR is often associated with combat or violent encounters. The most immediate visual change in response to the BAR is that the eye focusing system (accommodation) loses it ability to maintain clear focus on targets at close distances. It is not possible during the first few seconds after entering into the BAR to clearly focus upon the front sights of a gun. A shooter’s visual focusing and attention is drawn to focus toward far distant viewing, toward infinity. This focusing change toward far distant focus is a direct result of the change from parasympathetic nervous system control to sympathetic nervous system control. This shift in the autonomic nervous system balance is responsible for changing how the crystalline lens inside the eye changes it shape and optical power. During the immediate stages of the BAR, the lens becomes less convex in shape and this results in an optical shift of focus resulting in clear focus only while viewing distant targets.
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    part 2

    The autonomic nervous system has two major branches; the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches. Generally speaking, the sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for direct action and confrontation by increasing heart pulse rate and bringing blood supply to large muscle groups. Also, eye pupil diameter increases, and the ciliary muscle relaxes, forcing a shooter to focus the eyes at far distances, perhaps to be behaviorally better prepared for a perceived oncoming threat. There is a slight bulging of the eyes associated with sympathetic nervous system dominance.

    The parasympathetic nervous system allows you to maintain a more relaxed, balanced state of readiness by slowing an accelerated heart rate, decreasing pupil size, and allowing the eye’s accommodative system to focus at increasingly close distances of up to inches from your eyes. The parasympathetic nervous system aims to bring neural physiology back to a state of balance or relative homeostasis.

    When the BAR is activated, along with the neural changes, there are hormonal and other biochemical channels activated concurrently by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. These chemical mediators are useful in helping maintain the influence of the autonomic nervous system response by either encouraging the body to stay in ‘high alert’ or by reversing this high intensity response to strong stimuli and resume a more normal relaxed controlled state of neural balance. However, during the early stages of the BAR, adrenalin is released in the body to further enhance the excitatory component of the BAR. (see flow chart)

    It is important to remember that the sympathetic nervous system can exert its neural messengers either in a focal manner (through secretion of noradrenalin or norepinephrine) at local end organs (as is the case at the ciliary muscle of the eye’s focusing system), or through releasing noradrenalin or norepinephrine directly into the bloodstream to prepare the body for combat.

    It is worthwhile to note that during the BAR there are a series of other biochemical and hormonal changes that are activated throughout the body. One example is that the adrenal glands secrete a group of hormones called glucocorticoids. Cortisol is the most prevalent of these hormones. Cortisol increases blood sugar levels to contribute energy for muscle function. Research has also correlated decreased learning and decreased memory function, as well as attention anomalies with increased cortisol levels in the body. These changes in response to cortisol levels increasing during the BAR help explain, in part, why visual memory and visual attention is narrowed during the BAR. These types of physiological changes that accompany the BAR begin to explain the perceptual changes called “tunnel vision” and “perceptual narrowing”. Humans have an innate tendency to narrow attention upon a threat during extreme stress. It can be argued that learning how to expand peripheral awareness of space can minimize the effects of “tunnel vision” during the BAR. Other strategies to overcome the tunneling effects of perceptual narrowing will be outlined in the visual training section of this bulletin.

    From a behavioral perspective, Dr. A. M. Skeffington, the father of behavioral optometry, theorized that during stress, the human ability to center on a task and identify and maintain meaningful awareness on a specific target is severely hampered. BAR type of stress causes a decline in your ability to derive meaning from your visual memory image due to a perceptual narrowing that accompanies the breakdown of optimal human performance. His theory postulated in the 1940s has gained strength and understanding during the last half century as much current neurological and psychological research has proven the bulk of his intuitive understanding of human responses to stress.

    Other behavioral and performance changes have been reported to be associated with “perceptual narrowing”. The theory of perceptual narrowing suggests that as the level of demand increases on a central, straight ahead target, there will be a corresponding decrease in the visual area surrounding the central area from which peripheral information can be extracted. Increased arousal causes increased narrowing of the attentional focus, with a progressive elimination of input from the more peripheral aspects of the visual field. Another way of viewing “tunnel vision” is that as stress increases, there is a reduction of cues used to regulate performance. When stress levels are further increased, there is a further restriction in the range of visual cues used to sample visual space. Under stress, the useful field of view shrinks, and the amount of processing of visual information is narrowed.

    A summary of behavioral changes that are associated with high levels of stress, such as seen during the BAR, include;



    1. Narrowing of attention span and range of perceived alternatives,

    2. Reduction in problem-solving capabilities,

    3. Oversight of long-term consequences,

    4. Inefficiency in information search strategies,

    5. Difficulties in maintaining attention to fine detail discrimination, and

    6. With intense fear, there is also temporary loss of fine visual-motor (e.g. eye-hand) coordination.



    With the possibility of some of the above mentioned changes affecting shooter’s during high stress encounters, it follows that a person involved in a combat situation may have difficulty accurately recording and remembering all the details of an encounter. During the active stages of the BAR, it may be quite difficult to recall with high accuracy and detail the events that just occurred during a shooting exchange. However, once the high stress has been relieved and a shooter returns to a state of more controlled relaxation, there may be recall of more visual images related to a specific previous combat situation.

    Contemporary visual research describes a parallel, dual processing visual system that is useful to further understand the complex nature of how visual information travels from the retina to the brain. One pathway (M-pathway) is more sensitive to coarse visual forms and images that move quickly. The other pathway (P-pathway) is more sensitive to fine spatial details of forms that are stationary or move at very slow rates.

    It appears that the P-pathway processing visual information that is dominated by central, detailed labeling of information, whereas the M-pathway processes information dominated by peripheral vision awareness of movement, orientation and location of visual images. It may be that these pathways work in a synchronous manner to efficiently process visual information. Under high stress there seems to be an imbalance between the P and M pathways such that one pathway overrides the other. “Tunnel vision” appears to be related to P-pathway dominance and M-pathway inhibition during the BAR.

    There are certain visual attributes that relate to object visibility that help shooters better understand why certain targets are easier to see that other targets. For example, size of a target is related to visibility because relatively larger image sizes have the potential to stimulate more retinal cells resulting in more information sent to the visual areas of the brain for processing. This increases the chances of a more accurate visual interpretation of the details of the target of interest.

    Contrast of a target is a critical variable directly related to ease of visibility. Contrast corresponds to the ability to discriminate a dark visual image from a lighter visual image within a total visual surround. In general terms, contrast is the relationship between the lighting intensity of two adjacent areas. A dark target, approaching black (having no reflected light) is most easily seen next to a white (reflecting all light) background. Shades of gray that have similar light reflective intensities are most difficult to visually discriminate and separate because the contrast values are most similar. Shading differences, reflective light patterns and texture gradients are learned behaviors that improve a shooter’s ability to recognize contrast.

    Colors of objects have a direct influence on visibility in daylight (photopic) conditions. In low light (scotopic) conditions, color has no influence on visibility of a target because rod cell physiology operates during scotopic conditions and rod cells do not have color discrimination ability. The colors white and yellow have the highest visibility potential, followed by orange, red, green and blue. Since white reflects all wavelengths of light visible to the human eye, white is highly visible during daylight conditions.

    Another visual attribute related to color and contrast is brightness (luminance) of a target. When light falls upon a target, it is absorbed or reflected. The light reflected by a target is what the eye senses if the light is of sufficient intensity to stimulate the cones and rods. Materials that reflect or radiate the highest amount of light are most easily seen by the human visual system. Brightness is a shooter’s subjective appreciation of the intensity of light entering the eye. However, glare, an excessive amount of light that serves no purpose, can be counterproductive to ease of visibility.
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    part 3

    Although movement of a target improves the ability to detect a figure from its surroundings, at the same time, as speed of a target increases, the ability to distinguish details of the target decreases. It follows that once you fixate upon a target, the chances of engaging and discerning details of the target with precise eye-hand-mind coordination improves as the target speed slows towards becoming stationary. Fixation control is the ability to maintain steady and accurate eye position upon a stationary target. Many visual factors influence improved fixation control such as high contrast of target, color and size of target, as well as flexible eye focusing skills. Fixation control begins to deteriorate after a few seconds of steady fixation because the eye has an innate tendency to continually scan and move to change retinal areas of stimulation. Also, the ability to follow a moving target (pursuit movements) uses other neurological controls than do fixation control. Pursuit movements, as well as fixation control, improve as the quality of the target’s contrast and brightness increases.

    During World War II optometrists used flash recognition training to teach U.S. Navy Pilots airplane recognition. This training reinforced optimal “visual posturing” (includes the posture of every body part whose adjustment affects vision) adjustments the pilots made to improve their visual perception of targets.

    A 1995 research report discussed a three month visual training program conducted with the Catalan Government Special Intervention Squad at the Olympic Training Center in Spain. Pre-test and post-test results were compared for pistol shooting performance and visual function. Statistical analysis revealed significant gains in visual function and pistol shooting scores after the visual training program.

    Another example of visual training is biofeedback training. Using an instrument that allows you feedback as the relative stimulation or relaxation of the eye focusing muscle (ciliary muscle) can exert a carry over effect during intense shooting competition. A learned behavior of voluntarily stimulating a positive accommodation (parasympathetic response) during the BAR can act as a counter force to the negative accommodation response to the sympathetic nervous system stimulation during the BAR.

    Sports vision training has developed effective exercises to enhance and fine- tune depth perception, eye motility and movement speed and accuracy, eye-hand-body coordination, visualization, speed and flexibility of eye focus and visual memory skills.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Edward C. Godnig, O.D., FCOVD, is a 1976 graduate of the New England College of Optometry, Boston, Massachusetts. He maintains a private practice of optometry specializing in behavioral optometry. Behavioral optometry is a clinical discipline that diagnoses and treats visual skills and abilities that have an impact on learning and movement behaviors. Dr. Godnig has a particular interest in enhancing the ability of shooters to use their visual system to improve marksmanship. He has developed visual training exercises for shooters to improve the skills necessary for fast and accurate shooting.

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    52 views and no responses on the subject of eyesight and shooting research.

    We can improve our performance with our firearms, under stressful conditions based on the research. We read many posts all over the net that under the body alarm response [ BAR ] we'll lose peripheral vision skills. The research suggests the diminished peripheral sight can be trained out of those responses.

    From the article:

    It is not possible during the first few seconds after entering into the BAR to clearly focus upon the front sights of a gun. A shooter’s visual focusing and attention is drawn to focus toward far distant viewing, toward infinity

    It suggests, based on physical limitations of BAR, in the initial response to a life threatening event, we can't "clearly" focus on the front sight [ near objects ]. That seems to suggest learning threat focused shooting skills is of more value than most realize, and goes against those who purport that you'll be able to use front sight press skills adequately while experiencing a BAR event.

    From the research paper

    It can be argued that learning how to expand peripheral awareness of space can minimize the effects of “tunnel vision” during the BAR

    My own findings of enhancing the peripheral vision skills seems to be supported by medical research in this field:

    Enhanced Peripheral Vision © - Threat Focused Forums

    Physically, we lose the ability to truly "focus" on an object, or track it's movement with direct vision with the increase in low light/no light levels. Many combat vets know this as they've been shown that scanning an area will see more than staring intently to "see" something in low light conditions. That scanning we've known to work well in low light combat scenarios suggest it is effective due to it's using our peripheral vision [ the rods ]. As all too many SD situations develop in low light or near dark conditions, it would make sense to learn to utilize our natural peripheral vision skills.

    Visual skills provide intelligent information to shooters concerning where targets are located, what details and characteristics constitute the target, as well as target speed and direction of movement. This type of spatial, temporal and labeling information is used to make a decision whether or not to coordinate a response to shoot the target. Understanding how visual abilities dominate the process of shooting targets accurately and quickly will provide a framework to improve firearms instruction.

    The more one can understand how the body responds physiologically to stress, and more importantly, why it responds that way, the better we are going to be able to find ways to negate some of that diminished skill under a BAR. It's important material, and even more important to accept what has been researched and discovered to help us with those naturally occurring diminished skills.

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    Interesting research but I don't know if anyone really knows how to use this info? I guess point and shoot until your eyes can focus on the front sights?

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    Goshen Enterprises references Dr. Godnig's research to explain their approach for the design of unique sights. http://www.goshen-hexsite.com/medical_research.html
    Howard
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    That hex sighting system would not be as fast as standard sights with threat focused skills.

    Threat focused skills do not require the gun to be at line of sight, and that hex sighting system requires line of sight by it's very design.

    buzzgum,

    The paper by Dr. Edward C. Godnig, O.D., FCOVD is an introduction to the research in the field of vision and shooting, more specifically, the reaserch they are doing in how to negate some of the stress induced BAR which affects vision.

    The paper wasn't supposed to show/tell people how to use/develop their vision accordingly, it was describing the research and their findings that the BAR response and it's affects on vision can be reduced.

    I'm presently attempting communication with Dr. Godnig, to further understand the research and perhaps attend his clinics in this field of vision and shooting.

    Too many people are happy to learn/develop front sight press line of sight shooting and stop there thinking it's efficient enough for the street under every condition they may find themselves in.

    Having been trained in peripheral vision skills with a rifle and pistols from below line of sight back in 1981 by the master/developer of the system [ Quick Kill ], I've known for quite some time there's better, more efficient methods which compliment ones line of sight skills.

    The medical research Dr Godnig is involved with this thread may take this even further, and if that appears to be case based on his research, I'll be flying back to Boston for that training.

    It's not only important to me as one who carried/carries a gun for self defense of myself and others, but as a trainer who's helping people develop skills past that which has been considered acceptable since the late 60's.

    Brownie
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