Visual Learning and the Brain: Implications for Dyslexia


Matthew H. Schneps, Science Education Department, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138; e-mail:


ABSTRACT— The central and peripheral visual fields are structurally segregated in the brain and are differentiated by their anatomical and functional characteristics. While the central field appears well suited for tasks such as visual search, the periphery is optimized for rapid processing over broad regions. People vary in their abilities to make use of information in the center versus the periphery, and we propose that this bias leads to a trade-off between abilities for sequential search versus contemporaneous comparisons. The parameter of periphery-to-center ratio (PCR) describes the degree of peripheral bias, which evidence suggests is high in many people with dyslexia. That is, many dyslexics favor the peripheral visual field over the center, which results in not only search deficits but also (more surprisingly) talents for visual comparison. The PCR framework offers a coherent explanation for these seemingly contradictory observations of both deficit and talent in visual processing. The framework has potential implications for instructional support in visually intensive domains such as science and mathematics.