Envisioning better athletes

Strobe eyewear may improve performance
August 1, 2011

Eyeing improvement: Benjamin Crisp ’11 tests Nike Vapor Strobe.

Eyeing improvement: Benjamin Crisp ’11 tests Nike Vapor Strobe.
Les Todd

Strobe-like eyewear designed to train the vision of athletes may have positive effects in some cases, according to tests run by a team of Duke psychologists who specialize in visual perception.

The eyewear, developed by Nike as a commercial product, has lenses that alternate between clear and opaque states, producing a strobe experience. Nearly 500 people participated in more than 1,200 training sessions and had their visual abilities tested before and after they wore the eyewear. They completed visual-motor tasks, such as catching and throwing a ball, as well as computer-based tests.

Once the eyewear is removed, the theory goes, the brain’s visual processing has been trained to see the ball’s path more clearly. The Duke psychologists found subjects experienced some improvements in noticing brief stimuli and detecting small changes in motion after training with the eyewear.

Anecdotally, some athletes who trained with the eyewear also report that the ball seems to have slowed down when they view it with regular vision afterwards, says Stephen Mitroff, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke who led the research.

The strobe eyewear has lenses that alternate between clear and opaque states at eight different rates, with a constant 100 milliseconds (one-tenth of a second) of clear vision between each opaque phase. At their most rapid flashing rate, the eyewear becomes opaque for 67 milliseconds, six times per second. At the slowest rate, they are opaque for 900 milliseconds, or 90 percent of each second.

Participants included Duke athletes in varsity football, men’s basketball, and men’s and women’s soccer, as well as students on club teams for Ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, and juggling, and other undergraduates. Half of the participants trained with the strobe eyewear and the other half trained with control eyewear that was identical, but with clear lenses. All completed computer tasks that measured visual sensitivity and attention before and after training with the eyewear. The experiments were designed to evaluate whether those who wore the strobe eyewear would improve more after the training than those who wore the control eyewear.

The research was funded by Nike, which is marketing the new eyewear as Nike Vapor Strobe.