02 March 2014

Science of Baseball: Vision Training May Improve Performance Dramatically

Science of Baseball is a series that has been on hiatus for a long while.  For the most part, it ended when I ceased to have access to journal articles about a year after my doctorate was finished.  However, I have been able to procure some studies from other sources.  As such, we will try to make this a feature on Sundays to peruse as you take in some afternoon baseball.  Enjoy.


Improved Vision and On-Field Performance in Baseball Through Perceptual Learning
Deveau et al. 2014
Current Biology
Our visual abilities profoundly impact performance on an enormous range of tasks. Numerous studies examine mechanisms that can improve vision. One limitation of published studies is that learning effects often fail to transfer beyond the trained task or to real world conditions. Here we report the results of a novel integrative perceptual learning program that combines multiple perceptual learning approaches: training with a diverse set of stimuli, optimized stimulus presentation, multisensory facilitation, and consistently reinforcing training stimuli, with the goal to generalize benefits to real world tasks. We applied this training program to the University of California Riverside (UCR) Baseball Team and assessed benefits using standard eye-charts and batting statistics. Trained players showed improved vision after training, had decreased strike-outs, and created more runs; and even accounting for maturational gains, these additional runs may have led to an additional four to five team wins. These results demonstrate real world transferable benefits of a vision-training program based on perceptual learning principles.
Snellen Eye Chart
The basic idea presented here is that there may be some elements of baseball that could be enhanced with training regimens that have been shown to be useful in other contexts.  Researchers wound up taking 19 players on University of California - Riverside's (DI) team and putting them through 25 minutes sessions to develop their visual perception and response.  These software sessions included a variety of different exercises that are supposed to enhanced an individual's ability to improve contrast (which can help distinguish seams on a baseball, perhaps) as well as peripheral vision (which can help with head placement when batting).

In laboratory testing, they found that the players that underwent the training improved in two ways.  Their ability to read the Snellen Eye Chart improved significantly.  The individuals also manged to improve their ability to detect contrasts in a well lit environment.  In real life, they found the team exhibiting a roughly four percent decrease in strikeouts, which was significant against the performance of the rest of the league.  Additionally, the team improved by over 40 runs over what the researchers expected to the team to accomplish.  From there, they used the well known Pythagorean Win Expectation to conclude that the team improved by about four games.

Of course, improvement could have resulted from other factors that were unknown or untested by the researchers, so this should not be taken as a conclusive study.  However, it is a remarkable use of technology and certainly a direction to investigate in the future.

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