- Bruce Bridgeman says he saw greater depth after watching the film "Hugo" last year
- He has a condition in which his eyes point outward
- The enhanced visual experience has continued since then
Trees once looked like green panels for Bruce Bridgeman. He'd have to move his head to gauge the relative closeness of objects.
For most of his life, he had poor depth perception. His eyes pointed outward and did not allow him to see, in stereo, a single image with both eyes.
But in February 2012, something changed when he went to a movie theater with his wife. He put on a pair of 3-D glasses to watch the film "Hugo" and, to his amazement, the characters and scenery in this film jumped out at him in greater stereo vision than he had experienced before.
What's more, after returning the glasses and leaving the theater, Bridgeman's perception of the real world was enhanced as well. A lamppost jumped out from the background, and the trees, cars and people looked somehow more vivid. This was the world with depth. Bridgeman was "euphoric."
"Suddenly, things began to jump out at me," said Bridgeman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The effect has stuck around since he saw the movie 16 months ago.
It's impossible to prove scientifically that the film itself altered his visual system, but his hope is that his story could help others with similar eye conditions who struggle through months of training to attempt to see more vividly.
Other experts say the vivid 3-D movie could have indeed jolted Bridgeman's visual system in this way, but that it wouldn't work as a quick fix for most people with eye alignment problems. It's possible with Bridgeman's unique set of circumstances, it was exactly what he needed, but it would probably help few people.
"Certainly immersion in a 3-D movie could, if somebody had a marginal vision system, could absolutely improve it," said Paul Harris, associate professor at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee, who has not evaluated Bridgeman. But, he adds, "I wouldn't prescribe (a movie)."
A flat world
For Bridgeman, the world used to be a much flatter place -- like a two-dimensional movie on a flat screen, he said. He often looked through only one eye or the other.
He used other cues to help him figure out relative distances. For instance, parallax is a phenomenon in which, when you move your head, objects that are closer appear to move faster than objects that are farther away. Objects also generally appear smaller when they are farther away.
"You still see the world as kind of, in theory, three-dimensional, but the experience is more flat," he said. "I didn't realize that until I began to see in proper stereo."
Bridgeman recalls having his eyes examined at age 8 at a hospital in Philadelphia. Doctors recommended against surgery, although he doubts his family could have afforded it anyway.
Because his eyes aren't completely well aligned, there's a small eye movement that occurs when he shifts from looking through one eye to the other.