Is “Where ” more important than “What”? Spatial Mapping and Vision

With your eye’s closed, you could most likely still reach to items in your workspace. You could point to the door or window in the room without difficulty. You have an accurate spatial map of your immediate surroundings. This is the result of accurate spatial map developed from information from the peripheral (magnocellular) visual system and accurate eye movements, specifically saccades.

The Spatial Map on a Hike

As we are hiking, we look around, directing our central visual system at points of interest. Perhaps a unique tree or the path of the trail.

Suddenly, a squirrel moves several feet from the trail. The movement draws your eyes to it and you look at the squirrel before he scurries back up a tree out of your view. You continue walking as you look at the squirrel, stepping over a log in the trail. But how did you do that??

As you walked and looked around, your visual system developed a spatial map that was constantly updated as you moved, updating with every movement of your eyes. A sudden change in the map (the movement of the squirrel) caused a quick look towards the critter. How accurately you looked to the squirrel is the result of the accuracy of your spatial map.

That accurate spatial map also allowed us to step effortlessly over the log across the trail as we walked and looked at the squirrel. Our visual system is amazing!

The Spatial Map on the Classroom

The accuracy of the spatial map is the result of accurate eye movements and accurate eye movements are the result of a good spatial map.

The inaccurate spatial map can affect reading fluency causing children to skip words and lines during reading tasks.

It can make spacing during handwriting irregular, with letters starting above and below the line because the visual system is having a difficult time guiding the pencil to the line. Their visual system is not sure where the line is, making putting the pencil on it to start a letter difficult.

Improving the Spatial Map

Its all about the humble saccade! That quick, short movement is responsible for developing the spatial map. Improving the spatial map is not very difficult. Some simple saccade tasks, with a still head can improve eye movement accuracy and the accuracy of the spatial map.

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