What Is Binocular Vision? - Examples & Advantages

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  • 0:00 Binocular and Monocular Vision
  • 1:49 Advantages of Binocular Vision
  • 3:24 Stereopsis and 3D Movies
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

This lesson discusses binocular vision and what it has to do with 3-dimensional sight. It compares binocular with monocular vision, and explores the advantages of each using examples of animals with each type of vision.

Binocular and Monocular Vision

Think about the last time you went to a 3D movie. You probably noticed that before you put on the special glasses, the movie was fuzzy. Then, when you donned the glasses - bam! Three dimensions! So, how does this happen? Before we can answer this question, we need some background information.

3D movies take advantage of the fact the humans have binocular vision. Animals, such as humans, that see with binocular vision have both eyes on the front of their head and focus both of their eyes on a single visual image. Since our eyes are a couple of inches apart, we are actually seeing two slightly different images. Our brain then translates these two slightly different images into one single view. Without binocular vision, we wouldn't be able to enjoy 3D movies!

This may not sound that interesting, until you realize that many animals don't see like this. Many, in fact, do not see just one image at a time. They actually see two separate images, simultaneously. This type of vision is referred to as monocular vision. These animals have one eye on either side of their head. One eye focuses on one image in one direction, and the other eye focuses on a second image in the other direction. The brain can then register two completely separate scenes at the same time. The bearded dragon, for example, has one eye on each side of its head, so it has monocular vision. The horned owl, on the other hand, has binocular vision because it has both eyes on the front of its head.

Binocular, comes from the Latin word bini, meaning ''two,'' and the Greek oculus, meaning ''eye.'' So, the term refers to two eyes focusing on one visual image. Monocular comes from the Latin root mono-, meaning ''single,'' so, a single eye focusing on one image.

Advantages of Binocular Vision

Is one type of vision better than the other? Well, it depends. Prey animals, such as rabbits, small birds, fish, and deer tend to have monocular vision. This is because monocular vision provides a much larger field of view, which is very useful for spotting predators. Since the eyes are on each side of the animals' head, they can see in both directions at the same time. Additionally, using peripheral vision, or the sides of the eye, these animals can also see in front and behind them (though there are often blind spots in these directions). So, the rabbit can see the fox approaching on his right, the snake hiding in the grass to his left, and the burrow where he can hide in front of him. A pigeon has a field of vision of 340 degrees while an owl has a field of vision around 110 degrees.

Predators, such as cats, owls, apes and humans, however, tend to have binocular vision. Since our eyes are both located on the front of our head, our field of vision is decreased. However, binocular vision allows for greatly increased depth perception, or the ability to distinguish the distance of an object. It also allows for stereopsis, or the ability to see in three dimensions. Stereopsis is Greek in origin and combines stere-, meaning ''three dimensional'' and opsis, meaning ''sight.'')

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