PSYCHOLOGY OF VISION
WHAT IS THE PSYCHOLOGY OF VISION?
The eyes can be considered a window of the brain onto reality.
The sense organs transmit billions of bits of information simultaneously over several channels. But what happens is not merely the recording of a phenomenon: these bits of information undergo numerous mediations, some produced by the perception channel, others occurring when perception becomes a sensation, which has an emotional value that also determines their interpretation.
As may clearly be observed, the perception of external stimuli that are first intercepted by the eyes and then categorised and interpreted varies constantly, not only according to objective, concrete factors (phenomenological reality), but also according to subjective factors experienced by each individual in a totally personal way.
WHAT IS THE VISION PSYCHOLOGIST CONCERNED WITH?
During its evolution, the human being favoured hearing and sight, relegating to second position the sense of smell, which is more developed in other animal species. At birth, human offspring initially resort to the sense of touch and sensation felt through the mouth (orality of the new-born child). Sight is not yet fully developed and complex visual mechanisms will only be achieved after eight years, sometimes at the end of childhood. However, the anatomical growth of the eye continues until adulthood. The visual channel becomes increasingly more important. Many research studies have demonstrated that we rely more on information received through the visual system, thereby showing the predominance of sight.
The psychology of vision fervently seeks to understand the neurophysiologic mechanisms that are implicit in vision, without disregarding the variables that influence visual perception: some are of a physiological nature, others pertain to the psychological sphere. The latter include, for example, interests, needs, personality, previous experience that strongly affects expectations and trust, the emotional state as a characteristic trait of the individual and the emotions determined by a certain context or situation, to name just a few. Variables of a social nature also come into play in a more pervasive manner than we are aware of: the dominant culture, foregone conclusions and prejudices. Therefore, the vision psychologist is attentive to the theories and techniques of Gestalt psychology (or psychology of form), which are closer to experimental psychology, cognitive psychology, and also to psychodynamic psychology.
At the Switzerland Eye Research Institute, the vision psychologist supports the team comprising an ophthalmologist, ophthalmic surgeon, orthoptist, optician and nurse in understanding patients and their needs, so that the diagnostic process and therapeutic indication is not restricted to overt aspects (visual acuity, refraction, previous or ongoing ophthalmic diseases, etc.), but also takes into account those less obvious but still very important, which greatly influence patients’ motivation and satisfaction.