You probably don't think much about your peripheral vision, but you're constantly using it. Whether you're driving on a busy highway or walking on a busy sidewalk, the ability to see something "out of the corner of your eye" is crucial. But that ability actually varies a lot from person to person, and some of us are actually better at seeing "out of the top of your eye" instead, according to a small March 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers had 12 volunteers take a series of perception tests over the course of several years. For the main test, participants were asked to focus on a central point on a screen and determine the time on images of clocks that were on all four sides (left, right, top, bottom) of that point. Sometimes there was a single clock on each side, other times there were three clocks on each side and participants had to try to tell the time of the middle clock.
The participants had more difficulty telling the time of the clocks flanked by two others than when the clock was on its own. This difficulty is a result of "visual crowding" — aka when the visual field is too cluttered to make out specifics.
The experiment also found that upper peripheral vision (spotting something above the center line rather than the left or right) is weakest in most people, followed by lower peripheral vision. Peripheral vision to the right and left of center varied from person to person.
Try It Yourself
How do you measure up? Take these eye tests* to find out where your peripheral vision ranks.
First test: Look at the red dot in the center of the image below. As you focus on the dot, try to read the middle "C" in every triplet and determine if the gap is facing left or right.
How'd you do? On this test, most people find it easier to read below the dot than above, and even easier to read to the left or right.
Second test: Look at the red dot in the center of the image below. As you focus on the dot, try to read the time on the middle clocks to the left and right of the dot. Which can you read better?
Third test: For the last time, look at the red dot in the center of the image below. As you focus on the dot, try to read the time on the middle clocks above and below the dot. Which can you read better?
How'd you do? Most people find it easier to read below the dot than above.
*These tests do not take the place of a professional diagnosis or consultation. Speak with your doctor if you are concerned about your vision.