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Liverpool University say Chinese eyes move faster


University of Liverpool have discovered that eye movement patterns of the Chinese differ from Caucasians living in Britain.

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To help them understand more about how brains work, the study investigated the eye movements of Chinese people, born and raised in China and Britons.   The University of Liverpool team found that a type of eye movement, rare in the British, is common in Chinese.  The study also suggests that there could be subtle differences in brain function between different populations. 

In medicine eye movement tests are used to help identify signs of brain injury or disease, such as schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, however, this research has shown that, within the Chinese population this is not necessarily linked to illness, or abnormality.   The findings, published in the journal Experimental Brain Research, suggest that eye movement patterns may not be as an effective indicator of altered brain function as originally thought.

Dr Paul Knox, from the University’s Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, said: “In a person from any country in the world we would expect the reaction time of fast eye movements to be approximately a fifth of a second.  Very rarely we find some people with eye movement reaction times that are much shorter than this, at around a tenth of a second.  This, however, is usually assumed to be a sign of an underlying problem that makes it difficult to keep the eyes pointing where you would like for a long enough period."

Working in China and Britain, the team tested fast eye movements, called saccades.  Participants in the study were asked to respond to spots of light by blinking as they appeared suddenly at various angles in front of them.  Researchers found that the reaction time varied between Chinese and other groups.  

Dr Knox said: “In our study, as we expected, 97% of British people had the common fifth of a second delay, and only 3% had the much faster response.  In our Chinese group, however, 30% had the faster, less common response.  Our participants were healthy, with normal vision, and yet the eye movement pattern previously thought to be rare, was relatively common in Chinese people.”

Speculating on the reasons for the different responses between populations Dr Knox pointed to cultural differences, such as, where people grow up, the education they receive, the type of work they do and even their social activities. 

While acknowledging that "further research was needed to fully understand why populations differ", Dr Know also suggested another possible reason for the difference was “basic differences in brain structure and function," adding, "maps of the brain were developed many years ago and were largely based on European populations.  This became the blueprint for brain structure, but there could be differences between various populations.”

The team is working with Sichuan University in Chengdu, China with the research funded by the Royal Society and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.  To help them further understand the cultural effects on eye movement behaviour the scientists are now investigating eye movement in Chinese people born and living in Britain with those born in China, but living in Britain.