Could Red Contact Lenses Enhance Bryce Harper’s Performance?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 10 2012 4:26 PM

Seeing the Ball Through Rose-Tinted Lenses

Will red contacts help the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper see the ball?

Washington Nationals #34 Bryce Harper wears red contacts during the Nationals vs. Cardinals game on Wednesday.
Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper wore red contacts during a playoff game on Wednesday

Screenshot via @xmascape.

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper wore a pair of red-tinted contact lenses in a playoff game Wednesday. Do tinted contacts make any difference?

Probably not much. So-called performance-tinted contacts make two separate claims. The first is that they reduce glare, just like eye black or ordinary sunglasses. In this regard, it’s pretty clear the contacts deliver. The second claim, that they make target objects like baseballs visually “pop” by filtering out certain wavelengths of light, is more controversial. In a 2007 experiment, college and professional football players were fitted with both clear and tinted lenses, and then asked to pick out a series of curved lines that blended with increasing subtlety into a blurred, visually-noisy background. The players wearing amber-tinted lenses performed better in the laboratory, suggesting that the contacts made good on their marketing claims. The author of the study, however, questioned whether the lenses would make any practical difference. The experiment was designed to detect tiny changes in visual acuity, and that’s basically what the tinted contacts produced: tiny, but statistically significant, changes. Existing research suggests that a higher level of improvement must be achieved in the laboratory to expect to draw real-world vision benefits, and the performance-tinted lenses failed to meet that threshold in this experiment. There have been a handful of other studies in which the lenses have fared either slightly better or slightly worse. In the end, it’s tough to draw firm conclusions about tinted contacts.

Harper is far from the first athlete to experiment with tinted eyewear. Mark McGwire was a big proponent, and competitive sharpshooters have long worn amber-tinted glasses to help them spot clay targets. But these endorsements are anecdotal, and the athletes may benefit more from the anti-glare effects than the wavelength-filtration. (In most studies, the participants say they like the performance-tinted lenses, even when the experiments suggest they’re making very little difference.)

One thing is clear: The new generation of performance-tinted contacts is an improvement on earlier models. In 2001, a study showed that lenses specifically tinted for tennis players actually made the ball more difficult to see.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.


TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.