Is “3D Eyestrain” A Misnomer?


As more “bad” 3D films enter the marketplace there are increasing articles being published about the bad health effects of 3D. Generally, somewhere in the copy of an article there is a reference to “3D eyestrain”.  I’m not a doctor, but I’m not sure “eyestrain” really defines what is happening.

As a layman, “eyestrain” conjures up things like muscle strain, over exertion or some kind of stress to the mechanical operation of the eyes. Some sort of movement or use that is atypical and causes harm. It seems difficult to accept that changing the point of focus as compared to convergence really creates some sort of strain or stress for the eyes. I am of the opinion that the problem likely has more to do with an expectation of the brain being met with something out of the “norm”. A perception conflict that the brain responds to with an alarm manifested with some type of physical discomfort.

What makes me have this opinion is noting that perception conflicts having to do with the inner ear present in some people with physical discomfort including headache and nausea. When an astronaut is weightless in space it is difficult to think some sort of physical stress is happening. Certainly over exertion is not at play, but headache and nausea do occur and I think it seems realistic that those physical manifestations of discomfort are brain induced and not muscle induced.

To me, the focus on the mechanics of the eye seems misplaced. In my humble opinion, more could be gained by studying what is going on in the brain during periods of perception conflict. Has this kind of study been undertaken using fMRI or EEG measurement? If not, why not?  What is the source of increased or decreased sensitivity to perception conflicts? Is it uniform or specific to certain types of perception conflicts? Does it imply some difference between people’s brain plasticity or ability to “wire around” problem areas?

When I read about extreme cases of brain “alternate connections” like those that manifest with synesthesia, I really wonder what is going on. Indeed, it is interesting to note that synesthetes generally associate their brain’s cross-wired perceptions with pleasurable feelings. This implies that if the brain is responsible for altered perception then it is positive and if external forces create altered perception it is negative. Does that always have to be the case?

Perhaps it is the difference between additive and subtractive in that synesthetes have added perception information and external perception conflicts require suppression or the ability to subtract the perception conflict from the brain’s processing.  Maybe it is the brain telling us through physical discomfort that it is being asked to delete what is normally an additive component to perception.

Some books suggest that the brain can be rewired on the fly to adapt to changing environmental conditions (astronauts in space for example). What makes that rewiring adaptable vs. permanent (as appears to be the case with synesthetes?). And how does the brain determine what is beneficial and what is harmful?  Clearly, there seems to be high levels of emotional response as it relates to perception issues. People who don’t like 3D are unusually vocal about it in ways that don’t seem to be commensurate with the issue. Some are on a mission to fight against “the terribleness of 3D”. Am I the only one that finds this extraordinary?

A google search of “3D”+”harmful” yields over 23 million results. Glasses are now available on the market that convert 3D to 2D and are selling! Over the months of writing this blog my opinion has changed somewhat to be more curious about what is going on in the brain as it relates to these continuing 3D health concerns and emotional ties to one opinion or another as to whether 3D is good or bad.

Clearly, this controversy is not going away so for that reason alone it deserves attention and study.

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