Perceptual Adaptation

reversing goggles

Perceptual adaptation is the means by which the brain accounts for the differences that the subject may witness, particularly alternations in the visual field. For example, if an individual’s visual field is altered forty five degrees left, the brain accounts for the difference allowing the individual to function normally. The brain plays a crucial role in the inner workings of vision. The world that one perceives is processed via the brain. Images sensed through the eyes is relayed to the visual cortex of the brain, and if vision is altered slightly, the brain accounts for the difference and will allow one to perceive the world as ‘normal.’ Over time, the brain processes even acute difference as normal.

Psychologist George M. Stratton was intrigued by the idea of perceptual adaptation. Because the retina receives images upside down, he was intrigued to see what happens when the brain receives an image that is right side up. Stratton conducted experiments in the 1890s in which he wore a reversing telescope for 21½ hours over three days. To his disappointment, his vision was unchanged. After removing the glasses, ‘normal vision was restored instantaneously and without any disturbance in the natural appearance or position of objects.’ Determined to find results, Stratton wore the telescoping glasses for eight days straight. By day four, his vision was upright (not inverted). However on day five, images appeared upright until he concentrated on them; then they became inverted again.

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