- The Psychology of Design
- 1. What you See isn't what your Brain Gets
- 2. Peripheral Vision is used more than Central Vision to get the Gist of what you See
- 3. People Identify Objects by Recognizing Patterns
- 4. There's a Special Part of the Brain Just for Recognizing Faces
2. Peripheral Vision is used more than Central Vision to get the Gist of what you See
You have two types of vision: central and peripheral. Central vision is what you use to look at things directly and to see details. Peripheral vision encompasses the rest of the visual field—areas that are visible but that you’re not looking at directly. Being able to see things out of the corner of your eye is certainly useful, but research from Kansas State University shows that peripheral vision is more important in understanding the world around us than most people realize. It seems that we get information on what type of scene we’re looking at from our peripheral vision.
People can’t help but notice movement in their peripheral vision. For example, if you’re reading text on a screen and there’s a video that starts to play off to the side, you can’t help but look at it. This can be quite annoying if you’re trying to concentrate on reading the text in front of you. This is peripheral vision at work! This is why advertisers use blinking and flashing in the ads that are at the periphery of web pages. Even though we may find it annoying, it does get our attention.
Adam Larson and Lester Loschky (2009) conducted research on central and peripheral vision in 2009, and Loschky conducted even more research in 2019. In the research they showed people photographs of common scenes, such as a kitchen or a living room, or outdoor scenes of cities and mountains. In some of the photographs the outside of the image was obscured, and in others the central part of the image was obscured (Figure 2.1). Then they asked the research participants to identify what they were looking at.
FIGURE 2.1 A photo used in the original Larson and Loschky research
Loschky found that if the central part of the photo was missing, people could still identify what they were looking at. But when the peripheral part of the image was missing, they had a much harder time identifying what they were looking at. Loschky concluded that central vision is critical for specific object recognition, but peripheral vision is used for getting the gist of a scene.
If someone is looking at a desktop screen, you can assume that they are using both peripheral and central vision. The same is true if they are looking at a laptop screen or a large tablet. With mobile screens, depending on the size of the device, it is possible that there is no peripheral vision available on the screen.
The theory, from an evolutionary standpoint, is that early humans who were sharpening their flint or looking up at the clouds and yet still noticed that a lion was coming at them in their peripheral vision survived to pass on their genes. Those with poor peripheral vision didn’t survive to pass on genes.
Additional research confirms this idea. Dimitri Bayle (2009) placed pictures of fearful objects in subjects’ peripheral vision or central vision. Then he measured how long it took for the amygdala (the emotional part of the brain that responds to fearful images) to react. When the fearful object was shown in the central vision, it took from 140 to 190 milliseconds for the amygdala to react. But when objects were shown in peripheral vision, it took only 80 milliseconds for the amygdala to react.