Haute couture can be credited for enhancing more than just catwalks and red carpets, as a new study suggests that the 3D or "stereoscopic" vision of dressmakers is as sharp as their needles. Stereoscopic vision is the brain's ability to decode the flat 2D optical information received by both eyes to give us the depth of perception needed to thread a needle, catch a ball, park a car and generally navigate a 3D world. Using computerised perceptual tasks, researchers from University of California (UC), Berkeley in the US and the University of Geneva in Switzerland, tested the stereoscopic vision of dressmakers and other professionals, and found dressmakers to be the most eagle-eyed. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, show dressmakers to be 80 per cent more accurate than non- dressmakers at calculating the distance between themselves and the objects they were looking at, and 43 per cent better at estimating the distance between objects. "We found dressmakers have superior stereovision, perhaps because of the direct feedback involved with fine needlework," said study lead author Adrien Chopin, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley. What researchers are still determining is whether dressmaking sharpens stereoscopic vision, or whether dressmakers are drawn to the trade because of their visual stereo-acuity, Chopin said. It has generally been assumed that surgeons, dentists and other medical professionals who perform precise manual procedures would have superior stereovision.
However, previous studies have shown this not to be the case. That spurred Chopin to investigate which professions would produce or attract people with superior stereovision, and led him to dressmakers. For the study, participants viewed objects on a computer screen through a stereoscope and judged the distances between objects, and between themselves and the objects. Researchers recorded their visual precision and found that, overall, dressmakers performed markedly better than their non-dressmaker counterparts in visual acuity. A better understanding of dressmakers' stereoscopic superpowers will inform ongoing efforts to train people with visual impairments such as amblyopia or "lazy eye" to strengthen their stereoscopic vision, Chopin said. In addition to helping people with sight disorders, improved stereoscopic vision may be key to the success of military fighters, athletes and other occupations that require keen hand-eye coordination. An estimated 10 per cent of people suffer from some form of stereoscopic impairment, and five per cent suffer from full stereo blindness, Chopin said. For example, the 17th-century Dutch painter Rembrandt, whose self-portraits occasionally showed him with one lazy eye, is thought to have suffered from stereo blindness, rendering him with flat vision. Some vision scientists have posited that painters tend to have poorer stereovision, which gives them an advantage working in 2D.
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