Brain-training exercises to boost visual awareness might be the way for baseball players to gain an edge over the opposition, new research has shown.
Previous research into visual ability has tended towards visual exercises that work out the muscles of the eyes, rather than improving their ability to do real-world tasks.
Now, Aaron Seitz and his team an the University of California, Riverside, writing in the journal Current Biology - took 27 of the Riverside baseball team's players before the start of the 2013 season, and made 19 of them do 30 lots of 25-minute visual training, using a special video game. As a control, 18 team-mates weren't made to play the game.
Impressively, the baseball players who did the video training saw an average 31 per cent improvement in the accuracy, or acuity, of their vision - being able to see more letters on an optician's chart - as well as greater sensitivity to contrasts in light.
The benefits translated out of the lab and onto the field, with the trained players reporting, "seeing the ball better, greater peripheral vision and an ability to distinguish lower-contrast objects."
Not only that, but they had 4.4 percent fewer strikeouts - an impressive drop compared to all the other teams in their league - as well as scoring 41 more runs than expected over the season, and showing greater improvement in other stats than other teams in the league.
Overall, the researchers think the benefits of the brain training for just half the players added up to an extra four or five wins over the season - although it's too early to know if changes in vision were solely responsible for the improved play or if brain-training combined with unmeasured factors bettered batting performance.
Baseball, like a lot of sports, is weighted towards visual accuracy - obviously, you need to see the ball coming if you're going to hit or catch it. What's special about the Riverside brain-training approach is that it focuses on training the brain to better respond to the input it receives from the eyes in real-life situations, rather than just making the eyesight better.
So, it might well benefit players of other, similar sports - for example, the researchers are starting a new study with the women's softball team. Also, the researchers think that this type of training might help non-sporty people too, improving tasks like reading or driving.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that the best visual training in the world isn't always enough - the Riverside baseball team had to forfeit eight wins due to having an ineligible player on the team. Perhaps they should have read the rules a bit more closely...