Peripheral vision is the ability to see action or objects that are not in your direct line of vision, but instead taking place on the sides of your vision. While looking straight ahead we are using our central vision, we can see in far greater detail when doing so, this is because the density of receptor cells on the retina is greatest at the centre and lowest at the edges
Why is peripheral vision important? It allows us to see what is going on around us rather than just straight ahead without turning our head, this is particularly useful for detecting motion and enables us to walk without bumping in to things or other people. A study carried out at the Kansas State University also found that it is important for us when perceiving what type of scene we are looking at, such as a street, mountain, road, an office or a kitchen. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is extremely useful in everyday life but also enables us to take part in most sports and activities as well.
There has also been correlation between Alzheimer’s and peripheral awareness. The area of the brain that controls peripheral vision is one of the first to deteriorate on people who have Alzheimer’s, which explains why people with cognitive impairment sometimes move poorly and have issues balancing, often falling.
We use our peripheral vision a lot more than we realise, however we are using it a lot less than we used to day back in our hunter-gatherer days where our survival may have depended on it. In fact the need for our peripheral vision could be hardwired inside of us as a means for survival. We might not need it now as much as we used to but our bodies may not know that, which means that if this is taken away or reduced, feelings of anxiety, nervousness and stress could arise, even if we do not consciously know what is going on.
If we follow the “use it or lose it” adage, then is stands to reason that our peripheral vision could slowly be diminishing due to lack of use. With the advancement in technology, a lot of time is now spent staring straight ahead, be it either watching the TV, looking at a phone screen, or typing at a laptop (as I am right now) amongst other things.
As well as the physical problems this may result in, we could also become short sighted (pun very much intended) in our ideas, restricting us when trying to “think outside the box”.
So how can we “use it” so we don’t “lose it”? Step away from the laptop, put the phone down, turn the TV off and go outside. Find areas where you can see a panoramic view – usually up a height – and take it in, let your eyes focus on it for a few minutes (ok, then you can use your phone to take a panoramic photo if you wish!).
Or, try this simple exercise at home, or outside, which will only take up a minute of your time.
- Stand or sit comfortably, take a few deep breaths and focus on a target straight ahead.
- Without moving your eyes, try to look above the target to see what is above the area you are focusing on.
- Keep staring at the target in front of you and repeat the above step looking below the area this time, then to the right and to the left, all the while without your eyes actually moving, paying attention to the area around you.
- With a little bend in your arm, take your hands out to sides and lift them so they are level with your head, you should still be able to see them in your peripheral vision.
- Move your hands back out of your peripheral vision until you can’t see them.
- Bring them forward again so they are just in your line of vision and move them. This will get your eyes used to seeing things move at the edge of your peripheral vision which may help expand your peripheral awareness over time.
Note: Panoramic photo took at sunrise on Sarangkot Hill in Nepal last month.