In baseball, vision can play a key role in a player’s success. If they have trouble seeing the ball, chances are they could be out after three strikes. But new research from the University of California, Riverside, suggests that a brain-training video game could help to improve the vision of baseball players and, in turn, help them win more games.

The study findings were recently published in the journal Current Biology.

The research team, including Prof. Aaron Seitz, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), assigned 19 players from the UCR baseball team to complete 30 sessions of a vision-training video game that Prof. Seitz created, while 18 other team members did not undergo the training.

Each game session lasted 25 minutes and was carried out prior to the start of the 2013 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) division 1 baseball season.

The investigators found that the players who carried out the video game training reported, on average, a 31% improvement in visual sharpness and became more sensitive to contrasts in light.

The researchers say they were surprised to see such strong improvements, particularly since baseball players tend to have very good vision.

According to the Snellen eye chart – used by health care professionals to measure visual activity – 20/20 is classed as normal vision.

After completing the vision-training video game, the researchers found that some players saw their vision improve to 20/7.5. This means that what the average person can read at a distance of 7.5 feet, these players are able to read at a distance of 20 feet.

When it came to skills on the baseball field, the researchers found that the players who completed the vision-training video game had a 4.4% reduction in strikeouts, and the UCR team scored 41 more runs than projected.

The results accounted for the usual expected skill improvements in players over a season.

“I didn’t think we would see as much of an improvement as we did. Our guys stopped swinging at some pitches and started hitting at others,” says Doug Smith, UCR Head Baseball Coach.

“Their average strikeout total went down and batting went up. There is such a high percentage of failure in our game. Even the best players fail to hit 70% of the time. Everyone is looking for an edge to be that little bit better. Our guys are more confident now when they come to the plate.”

In the video below, the researchers explain how the study was conducted and the results they found:

Prof. Seitz says he believes the reason why the vision-training video game produced such good results is that it focuses on the brain rather than just the eye muscles. He explains:

Our integrated training program is unique in that we focus on training the brain to better respond to the input it receives from the eyes and in that, we examined both standard measures of vision as well as real-world performance in elite players.

The improvements are substantial and significantly greater than that experienced by players in the rest of the league in the same year.”

As well as athletes, the investigators say this approach to perceptual learning-based training could help people who have low vision that impacts their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

“We use vision for many daily tasks, including driving, watching TV, or reading,” says Jenni Deveau, a recent PhD graduate of UCR and co-author of the study.

“This type of vision training can help improve not only sports performance, but many of these activities in non-athletes as well.”

In other vision news, Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that exercise could slow the progression of diseases that cause blindness.