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Annemiek D. Barsingerhorn, F. Nienke Boonstra, Jeroen Goossens; Development of Symbol Discrimination Speed in Children With Normal Vision. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2018;59(10):3973-3983. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.17-23168.
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Many visually guided tasks require rapid perception of visual details, but how fast children can discern foveal stimuli and how this ability improves with age are still unknown. To fill this gap, we tested normally sighted children between 5 and 12 years of age with a combined symbol-discrimination reaction-time test.
Children (n = 94) had to indicate, as fast and accurately as possible, the orientation of a Landolt C symbol (90 trials). Task difficulty was manipulated by varying symbol size (−0.43 to 1.09 logMAR at 5 m). The resulting reaction times were analyzed with a drift-diffusion model. Reaction times on a visual and auditory detection task were measured to assess the contribution of other factors, such as delays in stimulus detection and executing the motor response.
Detection and discrimination were significantly faster in older children. Five-year-olds needed ∼440 ms for visual detection and ∼980 ms for discrimination of the largest symbols while 12-year-olds needed only ∼250 ms and ∼500 ms for this. The extra time needed for discrimination compared with detection decreased with age. The decrease in reaction time with increasing optotype size was also age-dependent and indicated an increase in sensitivity with age. Despite the time pressure, acuity thresholds were normal (within the EN ISO-8597 standard).
Our data revealed substantial developmental improvements in visual discrimination speed, which suggests that an important optimization takes place in the developing visual system of 5- to 12-year-old children. Since the speed–acuity test allows for quick and reliable assessment of visual recognition acuity and speed, it may be useful in clinical testing too.
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