How our genetics affect our visual experiences

written by Meena Azzollini

genetics

Credit:123RF

One of the first ways that infants interact with their environment is through their eyes – what they see. Before they can even crawl or reach for things their visual interactions are shaping their world. These visual experiences directly affect cognitive, emotional and social processing and influence learning opportunities – ultimately influencing the way children develop. A majority of the studies on tracking eye movement have investigated the common features that drive attention but in new study lead by Indiana University investigate the differences between individuals and whether they are influenced by genetics.

The study found that identical twins had a strong similarity in gaze patterns and they tended to look at the same features of the scene in the same order. It found a weaker but still significant similarity in fraternal twins.

For this, the researchers compared the eye movements of 466 children – 233 pairs of twins. Out of this 119 were identical twins and 114 were fraternal twins. The children were aged between 9 and 14 years.

Each child looked at 80 snapshots of scenes people might encounter in their daily life. Half of the snapshots included people.

The researchers then measured the sequence of eye movements in both space and time, using an eye tracker, as each child looked at the scene.

The researchers also looked out for general tendencies of exploration in children – for example, if a child looked at only one or two features of a scene or at many different ones.

The study found that identical twins had a strong similarity in gaze patterns and they tended to look at the same features of the scene in the same order. It found a weaker but still significant similarity in fraternal twins.

This indicates that genetics plays a strong role in the way individuals explore their environment visually.

As both identical and fraternal twins each share a common environment with their twin, the researchers confer that the more prominent similarity in eye movement of identical twins is due to their shared genetic makeup.

The researchers could also identify a twin with their sibling from a pool of unrelated individuals through a method of shared gazing which they called “gaze fingerprinting”.

The study suggests that after childhood, our genes influence us at a micro level – through immediate selection of visual information which ultimately creates the environment we choose for ourselves.

The researchers conclude that this finding is based on our genetics and how people look at things in a largely unconstrained environment. Eye movement allow individuals to obtain information from the environment and what we select to look at ends up shaping our visual experiences.

Our eyes are constantly moving at an approximate rate of three times per second and what we see in our environment as we engage with it, shapes our development and our experiences of our world. And what we choose to see is largely influenced by our genes!

Source: Current Biology


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Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!