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Does 3D television damage children’s eyes?

4 years ago

1 expert and 1 parent have answered

Lucy Jolin writer
Lucy Jolin Journalist and copywriter GB

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession 3D glasses looks like a right idiot. Appearances aside, there’s a very real chance that exposure to 3D images, in films and on TV, could be damaging to delicate young eyeballs.

Once a novelty, it’s predicted that by 2015 a predicted 300 million households will have a 3D TV, the majority of children’s films are released in the format, and last year Nintendo launched the 3DS – its first 3D handheld. The latter’s release came with the warning that children under seven (Nintendo’s core audience), should not use the 3D feature; in fact, most 3D products now include health and safety information of potential side effects like dizziness and nausea. Alongside these sea-sick feelings, may come short-term headaches and double vision that afflict both adults and children.

Karen Sparrow of the UK-based Association of Optometrists explains: ‘We know that we perceive our three-dimensional world by interpreting slightly different images in each eye to create depth perception. We use a range of natural cues in order to appreciate the 3D effect. However 3D technology requires us to ignore many of these cues.’

There is one potential ray of light. Research by the American Optometric Association found that introducing 3D images into the classroom helps learning – not only that, but it can help unearth that discomfort or headaches at an age early enough to properly treat it. So, even if your child isn’t a 3D fan at the moment, they may yet get to enjoy Ice Age 5 the way it was meant to be seen.

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Fact 4 years ago
expert answer
Andrew Weekes expert
Andrew Weekes Techy engineer, father of two. Sevenoaks, GB
Technology expert

Whilst we should always be cautious, especially when dealing with the still developing faculties of younger children, I do have concerns that this story is simply a single optometrist's opinion at present, giving rise to tabloid concerns.

It smells of MMR to me...

As is mentioned within the link above, there is little to no scientific evidence or clinical trial data that gives any supporting evidence for this theory.

That's not to say we shouldn't be cautious, but my personal opinion is there's no need for any concern beyond that one might normally have over lengthy television viewing or gaming sessions.

I'm sure most of us have at some point been warned by parents that we will damage our eyesight by sitting too close to the TV, it's a warning I still hear to this day, yet there isn't a single piece of evidence that there is any risk from this behaviour. Children's naturally more supple muscles allow a greater focal range than adults, so their experience of viewing close up is different from ours.

It's obvious that our normal stereoscopic view of the world around us is in 3D, all of the time, but many of us will have experienced first hand the tiredness, or even headaches that come from watching a film in 3D, so something is going on that isn't representative of the normal 3D world around us. What is that difference?

There's two primary issues in my view, one is the cinematic frame rate, the fact that watching a film, like watching television and other sources, is a series of still images played back at sufficient speed that the persistence of our vision perceives it as a continuous moving image.

Many cinema visitors reported side effects after watching the recent Hobbit movie, which was one of the first films to use 48 fps (frames per second) technology in some US cinemas. In theory this should be a more convincing simile of real life, being twice the normal cinematic film frame rate of 24fps, but it's obvious that some people found the experience an uncomfortable one.

Then there's the 3D element.

I'm not a fan of 3D movies and will elect to watch the 2D version if it's available, as I find watching 3D tiring, When I have watched a 3D movie I've left the cinema with a noticeably tired feeling and sometimes mild headaches.

The reason for this in my view is the way one is forced to experience a 3D movie (certainly the ones I've viewed anyway).

When one watches a normal 2D film your eyes are focussed on a single plane, that of the cinema screen. With a 3D movie the 3D technique is frequently used for effect and I would argue to excess, in my limited experience. Your eyes are forced to frequently and repeatedly focus anywhere from the cinema screen to a point in front of your nose, a huge distance in many cases.

In order to do this your eyes and the muscles around them are working much harder than they would normally, it's therefore not surprising that they become tired (as any muscle doing repeated physical work will) with the consequences that come from this, from mild discomfort to outright pain.

This differs from the real 3D world around us in that we are often only focussing on a single plane, we are rarely refocussing repeatedly, over a distance of 10's of meters, in our daily activities. If you find yourself doing this chances are you will find yourself suffering similar side effects.

So the question that remains, to me at least, is does it cause damage? Is there evidence that exercising the eyes in this way could cause long term ill-effects?

The obvious answer to that is that no one knows at present, since the evidence is non-existent.

I do offer the following piece of evidence though for readers to consider: -

My young son was given exercises to do, by his optometrist, to do almost exactly this kind of repeated refocussing exercise. He had to use a piece of string (known as a Brock string, after the optometrist Frederick Brock), on which where placed movable beads, these beads are placed at different points along the string, with the string then being extended from his nose outwards perpendicular to his face.

He then had to change his focal point to each bead in turn, for a series of repetitions, in order to strengthen and exercise the relevant muscles.

It would seem then that in some cases this exercise can be beneficial and prescribed by members of the same profession that raises concerns in the first place.

As parents we make our own decisions, but we should base them on actual evidence wherever possible, I for one have no concerns over my children's use of 3D viewing. We have no 3D devices at home so exposure is limited in our case, but if something you do causes discomfort, it's generally a good idea to stop doing it.

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Experience 4 years ago

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