Smartphones Linked to Visual Fatigue and Headache

A new study from the University of California finds that images placed in front of the screen can increase visual discomfort.

Several reports indicate that prolonged viewing of mobile devices and other stereo 3D devices—an occurrence known as vergence-accommodation—leads to visual discomfort, fatigue, and even headaches. According to a new study published in the Journal of Vision, the root cause may be the demand on the eyes to focus on the screen and simultaneously adjust to the distance of the content.

When watching stereo 3D displays, the eyes must focus to the distance of the screen, because that is where the light is coming from, said study author Martin S. Banks, PhD, of the University of California at Berkeley. “At the same time, the eyes must converge to the distance of the stereo content, which may be in front of or behind the screen.”

Through a series of experiments on 24 adults, the research team observed the interaction between the viewing distance and the direction of the conflict, examining whether placing the content in front of or behind the screen affects viewer discomfort. The results demonstrated that with devices like mobile phones and desktop displays that are viewed at a short distance, stereo content placed in front of the screen—appearing closer to the viewer and into the space of viewer’s room—was less comfortable than content placed behind the screen. Conversely, when viewing at a longer distance such as a movie theater screen, stereo content placed behind the screen—appearing as though the viewer is looking through a window scene behind the screen—was less comfortable.

“Discomfort associated with viewing Stereo 3D is a major problem that may limit the use of technology,” said Dr. Banks in a statement. “We hope that our findings will inspire more research in this area.”

He and his colleagues suggest that future studies focus on a larger sample in order to develop population-based statistics that include children. With the explosion of stereo 3D imagery in entertainment, communication, and medical technology, the authors also proposed guidelines be established for the range of disparities presented on such displays and the positioning of viewers relative to the display.

“This is an area of research where basic science meets application and we hope that the science can proceed quickly enough to keep up with the increasingly widespread use of the technology,” added Dr. Banks.