Children with 'wobbly eye' unable to recognise faces

Researchers have found that children who suffer from nystagmus struggle to recognise people

17 Dec 2016 by Emily McCormick

Researchers at the Southampton Children's Hospital have reported that children with an eye movement disorder know as nystagmus struggle to recognise faces, but not objects.

It is hoped that the finding, which was discovered by consultant paediatric ophthalmologist, Jay Self, and his team, will aid the development of more accurate methods of diagnosis for the condition, as well as better support for those affected.

The study, which was performed in collaboration with a team of physiologists at the University of Southampton and clinicians in Cardiff, aimed to compare how children with and without nystagmus look at faces. This comparison was possible through the use of an infrared eye-tracking device.

Explaining the purpose of the study, Mr Self said: "Nystagmus is an extremely complicated condition, and therefore, testing and diagnosing it has proved very challenging. We are constantly looking for ways to improve and enhance methods of diagnosis, as well as increase the support available to patients."

Children were shown two different images on a screen at the same time, and the device used infrared light reflected from the cornea of their eye to measure the time spent looking at each image.

When presented with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern and a plain grey panel, all children spent longer looking at the distinctive checkerboard and seemed to identify it quickly, which was expected, the clinicians reported.

However, when the children were shown pictures of their own mother's face next to another woman, those without nystagmus spent longer looking at their mother and found their face quickly, while those with nystagmus looked at both faces for the same length of time and seemed to struggle to identify their own mother’s face.

The findings, Mr Self said, could provide the basis of a more accurate diagnosis of nystagmus severity and measure of their efficacy of trial treatments, as well as improved social support and understanding for patients.

Nystagmus affects an estimated one in 1500 people in the UK and causes the eyes to "wobble," leading to strobe vision. 

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