What are we talking about when we talk about optimizing visual performance?
The warfighter remains the most important asset in the Department of Defense in accomplishing the mission of protecting and defending the country. The new warfighter must be adaptable to all types of warfare including those that have limited the use of technology and resulted in the need to optimize the performance of the individual warrior and their teams. The use of technology including heads up display technology, robotics and drones has reduced the risk to the warfighter and enhanced their ability to meet the mission and extensive resources have been expended on supplying the warrior with state of the art equipment and materials. However, resources for evaluating the impact of the use of that technology on the individual, maintaining that effort over longer periods of time, and efforts to improve and optimize human resilience, performance, health and well-being, including visual performance has been more limited.
Human performance optimization is defined as the process of applying knowledge, skills and emerging technologies to improve and preserve the capabilities of military personnel. It includes areas such as performance enhancement, performance sustainment and performance restoration and considers the demands placed on the warrior such as training and deployment issues as well as financial and family concerns and their impact on the individual's abilities to perform. Human performance is more than just building a better warfighter. Cognitive, behavioral, motivational/emotional and genetic and physiological factors must also be considered. In addition, the effect of the physical and social environment they operate in must also be considered. The result of all of this is a very complex system of influences that contribute to the warrior's performance on a given day. Service members must be prepared for the challenges and demands placed on them by the modern and future battlefield. Optimizing recruitment, retention, and resilience of the warriors to meet the specific requirements should be considered to optimize the total force in the future. This should also include optimizing visual performance as well as determining what aspects of visual performance are essential for particular tasks. how to evaluate them and, when necessary, how to select the right people for those tasks based upon their specific visual abilities.
The reality is that human vision performance is not perfect and can be disrupted by the additive factors discussed previously as well as many others. The human vision system complex includes various optical and neural channels which create a perception that can be affected by past experiences, age, fatigue, nutrition, stress levels and many other factors whose influences have not been fully studied. Eye care providers normally assess vision by testing an individual's visual acuity using a chart on a wall or in a screening machine, evaluating color perception by using standard plates and depth perception by using a test for stereopsis. If your visual acuity is worse than it was last time, for example, it becomes important to determine the cause such as a change in prescription or something secondary to a decline in ocular health such as cataracts. This will continue to be an important first step in optimizing an individual's visual performance. However, the reality is that the real world is not made up of black letters on a white background so other methods for assessing visual performance are becoming more relevant and opportunities for improving that performance should be studied and utilized if data shows that improvement can be achieved.
Evaluation of real world visual performance and then developing testing protocols that evaluate that performance will enable clinicians to optimize the visual outcome of each service member and increase the chances for visual success in accomplishing specific tasks. For example, evaluating contrast sensitivity under different illumination levels and with different color schemes are being tested to determine how we can optimize the individual's ability to adapt under various conditions for target acquisition and whether or not we can improve upon that.
The issue is that there is a lack of performance-based human sensory and associated performance data which impacts opportunities for improvement of the current standards for accession. Most service members are assessed to the same standards without consideration of the selection of best individuals for specific tasks based on an assessment of their visually and multisensory abilities to accomplish those tasks. Current capabilities need to be evaluated and assessed and then opportunities for optimization need to be considered. When we lack what the warrior's vision needs or the requirements might be for accomplishing that task or mission, we cannot determine if we can improve upon them. We need to understand more about their vision when in battle and their specific vision performance needs and requirements and if there is an opportunity to improve those abilities.
Ideally having task specific performance based standards for specific operations should be considered. The good news is that humans are able to do complex visual tasks in the presence of high levels of uncertainty in their operational environment. If it is possible to optimize an individual's visual performance for specific task then we assist in optimizing their overall performance as well.
Visual processing is a key component in overall performance and productivity. There are many ways to optimize visual processing, but the most basic way is to improve presentation of visual information through ergonomics. To maximize worker administrative productivity in a clinic or office setting, leaders must properly resource their employees' work environment with equipment, fixtures and layouts that make multi-tasking easy, minimize disruption and prevent worker fatigue. For example, adjustable desks, proper lighting, monitors and privacy boost worker productivity and reduce fatigue.
The bottom line is that their are a lot of opportunities for research in the field of vision performance and its effect on the overall performance of the warrior as well as the office worker. We will have to see what the future holds.
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