Dynamic Information and Visual Attention

Another key component in the stimulation of our visual system that directly impacts our attention span and supports the view that drawing (the action) has significant effect on our understanding of visual information is the presence of “dynamic information,” or movement. Dr. Pawan Sinha, head of the Sinha Laboratory for Vision Research at MIT, conducts humanitarian missions to restore sight to blind children in some of the most underserved areas of India. His work with Project Prakash (the humanitarian outreach of his research work) focuses not only on performing the surgery to correct congenital anomalies, but on observing and aiding in the recovery process as well. It is here that he has made a significant finding about the way in which our vision matures; by studying the sight recovery process in hundreds of children (and many adults) who are old enough to explain their experiences but are only just beginning to understand what it means to see, he has determined that motion is absolutely essential for our visual system to be able to create meaning from the stimuli acting on our eyes. “The one thing the visual system needs in order to begin parsing the world is dynamic information,” he said during a TED talk as he shared video of an adult male faced with two visual displays on a computer screen. Though unable to correctly determine how many shapes are present in the display if those shapes are fixed, when the shapes are moving across the screen this man is immediately able to identify the square as a square, and the circle as a circle |Sinha, 2010|. His continuing research shows that this holds true for almost all patients of Project Prakash. Dr. Sinha goes on to explain that the scientific inference from these observations is that motion is what allows us to separate different kinds of shapes and colors and luminosities from the visual world, which leads to visual integration, leading ultimately to object recognition.

It is the difference between seeing a drawing, and watching a drawing come to life.

To place Dr. Sinha’s research in the context of drawing, this means that the motion required to create drawings — the movements of arm, hand, and utensil all serve to reinforce the eye’s ability to detect visual information. The importance of motion on the acquisition of sight when patients are “learning” to see finds a direct correlation in the dynamic nature of the action of drawing. It is the difference between seeing a drawing, and watching a drawing come to life.