Newswise — Rockville, Md. — A recent study shows that infants and toddlers take longer to notice new visual stimuli and are less accurate in their gaze than adults, but slowly improve as they age. The findings reinforce the importance of raising young children in stimulating environments, and set an important baseline as detection of developmental disorders increasingly rely on tracking eye movements. The paper, Development and learning of saccadic eye movements in 7-42 month-old children was published in the Journal of Vision.

"Literature looking at eye movements in infants is very scarce,” said author Karine Doré-Mazars, PhD, of Paris Descartes University, Institute of Psychology. “It rests on a handful of studies in the 70s and 80s based on a few observations collected from a few infants, which make the conclusions fragile.”

Vision researchers developed a simple test involving an animated cartoon character appearing randomly on a computer screen to evaluate the visual response time and accuracy of children in daycare in Paris, France. Data from adults was compared to that from the children. Two main differences between young children and adults were found in addition to an unexpected observation.

“First, it takes more time for infants to be aware that something appeared on the screen and to go look at it. Second, their eye movements are a little less precise than adults. These results were expected, given that the brain regions that produce these eye movements are not fully mature in our age range studied,” said Doré-Mazars.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that eye movements in infants and toddlers got more accurate over the course of the test. This result reinforces the ideas that babies can learn and improve their behavior, and that novel experiences and environments are important for child development. Doré-Mazars suggests that “simply going out” is a good way to develop a child’s curiosity.

Future research will examine how long infants and toddlers can remember what they have learned from the test, as well as what age vision has the precision necessary for reading and writing. Finally, the researcher team is eager to study how children learn to focus their attention on certain stimuli (like their parents) while ignoring distractions (like TV).

# # #The Journal of Vision (JOV) is an online, open access, peer-reviewed scientific journal devoted to all aspects of visual function in humans and other organisms. The journal is published exclusively in digital form: full-text articles may be accessed for free via the internet. The journal encourages the effective use of color, multimedia, hyperlinks, program code, and other digital enhancements.

JOV is published by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), an organization of nearly 12,000 researchers from over 75 countries that advances research worldwide into understanding the visual system and preventing, treating and curing its disorders. In addition to JOV, ARVO publishes Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, and Translational Vision Science & Technology.