Taking Stock: Infant and Child Vision Research : Optometry and Vision Science

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Guest Editorial

Taking Stock: Infant and Child Vision Research

Dobson, Velma

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Optometry and Vision Science 86(6):p 557-558, June 2009. | DOI: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e3181aa0676
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When I entered graduate school in 1970, the field of infant vision research was in its infancy. Early leadership in the United States was provided by Fantz et al,1 who, in the 1960s, developed the preferential looking technique, and used it to measure visual acuity and infants' preferences for and discrimination of visual stimuli.2 Also notable in the 1960s was work by Bower,3,4 who used conditioned head turning to study depth perception and other aspects of visual perception. The only area of infant vision research with a long history was the field of color vision, in which turn-of-the-century researchers used responses such as reaching for colored bottles to try to determine the infant's ability to detect colors.5–9 Fortunately, in the 1970s, the tide turned, and a host of energetic researchers, including Atkinson, Braddick, Haith, Held, Kessen, Salapatek, Teller, and Yonas, began conducting rigorous studies to understand the infant's view of the world and how that view changes as they get older. I consider myself very fortunate to have entered the field during this exciting time.

During my graduate years, under the insightful and kind tutelage of my mentor at Brown University, Professor Riggs, I was able to conduct electroretinographic recording of dark adaptation functions in young children10,11 and a visual-evoked potential study of spectral sensitivity in infants.12 After this, thanks to my postdoctoral mentor at the Tufts Medical School Department of Ophthalmology, Sam Sokol, I was involved in one of the first visual-evoked potential studies of visual acuity in infants.13 My second postdoctoral mentor, Davida Teller, led me into the world of the psychophysical study of vision in infants. Her knowledge of psychophysical techniques used in adult vision research, which she combined with Fantz's preferential looking procedure, guided her to develop the Forced-Choice Preferential Looking procedure,14 an important tool that has led to a considerable body of research, including my laboratory-based studies of visual acuity in normal infants.15–18 In the early 1980s, Teller's recognition of the need for a clinically useful measure of visual acuity in infants prompted her to develop portable acuity cards and the modified forced-choice preferential looking procedure known today as the Teller Acuity Card procedure.19 This opened up the opportunity for the clinically oriented studies of high-risk infants and young children20–24 that shaped the next 20 years of my career.

This feature issue of Optometry and Vision Science arose from ARVO 2008 meeting conversations I had with Rowan Candy and Luisa Mayer about the explosion in electrophysiological, psychophysical, and clinical studies of vision in infants and children that has occurred since I entered graduate school. Although much of this research was described brilliantly in the chapters of Kurt Simons' book,25 15 years have passed since that book was published. The three of us, with help from many friends, decided that the time is now ripe for a publication updating the status of our knowledge of vision in infants and young children, from both basic science and clinical perspectives, and also highlighting areas in which our knowledge is incomplete. With this framework in mind, we approached Tony Adams, Editor-in-Chief of Optometry and Vision Science, about the possibility of a special issue dedicated to research in vision in infants and young children. He enthusiastically agreed to the proposal. We then made a call for submissions and recruited clinical and basic science researchers to provide a brief summary of the status of research in their area, while identifying the burning questions that remain to be answered. In other words, we asked each to answer two questions (1): What do we know about infant/child vision in his/her area?, and (2) What more would we like to know?

Velma Dobson

Tucson, Arizona


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2.Fantz RL. Visual perception from birth as shown by pattern selectivity. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1965;118:793–814.
3.Bower TG. Stimulus variables determining space perception in infants. Science 1965;149:88–9.
4.Bower TG. Slant perception and shape constancy in infants. Science 1966;151:832–4.
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10.Dobson V, Riggs LA, Siqueland ER. Electroretinographic determination of dark adaptation functions of children exposed to pholotherapy as infants. J Pediatr 1974;85:25–9.
11.Dobson V, Cowett RM, Riggs LA. Long-term effect of phototherapy on visual function. J Pediatr 1975;86:555–9.
12.Dobson V. Spectral sensitivity of the 2-month infant as measured by the visually evoked cortical potential. Vision Res 1976;16:367–74.
13.Sokol S, Dobson V. Pattern reversal visually evoked potentials in infants. Invest Ophthalmol 1976;15:58–62.
14.Teller DY, Morse R, Borton R, Regal D. Visual acuity for vertical and diagonal gratings in human infants. Vision Res 1974;14:1433–9.
15.Dobson V, Teller DY, Belgum J. Visual acuity in human infantsassessed with stationary stripes and phase-alternated checkerboards. Vision Res 1978;18:1233–8.
16.Powers MK, Dobson V. Effect of focus on visual acuity of human infants. Vision Res 1982;22:521–8.
17.Dobson V, Salem D, Carson JB. Visual acuity in infants—the effect of variations in stimulus luminance within the photopic range. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 1983;24:519–22.
18.Brown AM, Dobson V, Maier J. Visual acuity of human infants at scotopic, mesopic and photopic luminances. Vision Res 1987;27:1845–58.
19.Teller DY, McDonald MA, Preston K, Sebris SL, Dobson V. Assessment of visual acuity in infants and children: the acuity card procedure. Dev Med Child Neurol 1986;28:779–89.
20.Scher MS, Dobson V, Carpenter NA, Guthrie RD. Visual and neurological outcome of infants with periventricular leukomalacia. Dev Med Child Neurol 1989;31:353–65.
21.Dobson V, Quinn GE, Biglan AW, Tung B, Flynn JT, Palmer EA. Acuity card assessment of visual function in the cryotherapy for retinopathy of prematurity trial. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 1990;31:1702–8.
22.Dobson V, Quinn GE, Saunders RA, Spencer R, Davis BR, Risser J, Palmer EA. Grating visual acuity in eyes with retinal residua of retinopathy of prematurity. The Cryotherapy for Retinopathy of Prematurity Cooperative Group. Arch Ophthalmol 1995;113:1172–7.
23.Dobson V, Miller JM, Harvey EM, Mohan KM. Amblyopia in astigmatic preschool children. Vision Res 2003;43:1081–90.
24.Early Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity Cooperative Group. Revised indications for the treatment of retinopathy of prematurity: results of the early treatment for retinopathy of prematurity randomized trial. Arch Ophthalmol 2003;121:1684–94.
25.Simons K, ed. Infant Vision: Basic and Clinical Research. New York: Oxford University Press; 1993.
© 2009 American Academy of Optometry