The puzzle of visual development: Behavior and neural limits

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The development of visual function takes place over many months or years in primate infants. Visual sensitivity is very poor near birth and improves over different times courses for different visual functions. The neural mechanisms that underlie these processes are not well understood despite many decades of research. The puzzle arises because research into the factors that limit visual function in infants has found surprisingly mature neural organization and adult-like receptive field properties in very young infants. The high degree of visual plasticity that has been documented during the sensitive period in young children and animals leaves the brain vulnerable to abnormal visual experience. Abnormal visual experience during the sensitive period can lead to amblyopia, a developmental disorder of vision affecting ~3% of children. This review provides a historical perspective on research into visual development and the disorder amblyopia. The mismatch between the status of the primary visual cortex and visual behavior, both during visual development and in amblyopia, is discussed, and several potential resolutions are considered. It seems likely that extrastriate visual areas further along the visual pathways may set important limits on visual function and show greater vulnerability to abnormal visual experience. Analyses based on multiunit, population activity may provide useful representations of the information being fed forward from primary visual cortex to extrastriate processing areas and to the motor output.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11384-11393
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 9 2016


  • Amblyopia
  • Visual cortex
  • Visual development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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