Mind-Craft: How Digital Media Experience Changes the Visual Mind

Children and Screens

Visual perception fundamentally depends on statistical regularities in the environment to make sense of the world. For example, most natural scenes contain slightly more horizontal and vertical information than oblique information. This orientation anisotropy is likely a primary reason for the “oblique effect” (that fact that people perceive canonical visual information than they perceive the oblique kind). Recent changes in the visual environment, including the “carpentered” content in urban scenes and the framed, caricatured content in digital screen media, may have changed the level of orientation anisotropy in natural scenes. Two experiments evaluated whether digital visual experiences, or visual experiences with framed digital content, altered the magnitude of the oblique effect. In the first study, a novel eye tracking method indexed the visual oblique effect, In the second, the distribution of orientation information in natural, urban, and digital scenes was compared, confirming that the orientation statistics in the digital scenes were highly caricatured. Finally, subjects were tested to determine whether exposure to video games changed their visual orientation perception in the short term. Those who played video games for 4 straight hours experienced a significant change in their canonical contour detection speed, and the nature of that change could be directly predicted by the orientation statistics of their screen experiences. This showed that exposure to realistic, but caricatured, scene statistics in digital screen media can alter visual contour perception. In more technical terms, mass exposure to orientation anisotropy stimuli changes visual responsivity to orientation information in a manner reflecting statistics of experience. Low orientation anisotropy experience improves fluency with oblique contours. More broadly, visual perception is deeply impacted by exposure to digital media.