The effect of amblyopia on visual-auditory speech perception: Why mothers may say "Look at Me When I'm Talking to You"

Robert Burgmeier, Rajen U. Desai*, Katherine C. Farner, Benjamin Tiano, Ryan Lacey, Nicholas J. Volpe, Marilyn B. Mets

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


IMPORTANCE: Children with a history of amblyopia, even if resolved, exhibit impaired visual-auditory integration and perceive speech differently. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether a history of amblyopia is associated with abnormal visual-auditory speech integration. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Retrospective observational study at an academic pediatric ophthalmologic clinic with an average of 4 years of follow-up. Participants were at least 3 years of age and without any history of neurologic or hearing disorders. Of 39 children originally in our study, 6 refused to participate. The remaining 33 participants completed the study. Twenty-four participants (mean [SD] age, 7.0 [1.5] years) had a history of amblyopia in 1 eye, with a visual acuity of at least 20/20 in the nonamblyopic eye. Nine controls (mean [SD] age, 8.0 [3.4] years) were recruited from referrals for visually insignificant etiologies or through preschool-screening eye examinations; all had 20/20 in both eyes. EXPOSURES: Participants were presented with a video demonstrating the McGurk effect (ie, a stimulus presenting an audio track playing the sound /pa/ and a separate video track of a person articulating /ka/). Normal visual-auditory integration produces the perception of hearing a fusion sound /ta/. Participants were asked to report which sound was perceived, /ka/, /pa/, or /ta/. MAIN OUTCOME AND MEASURE: Prevalence of perception of the fusion /ta/ sound. Prior to the study, amblyopic children were hypothesized to less frequently perceive /ta/. RESULTS: The McGurk effect was perceived by 11 of the 24 participants with amblyopia (45.8%) and all 9 controls (100%) (adjusted odds ratio, 22.3 [95%CI, 1.2-426.0]; P = .005). The McGurk effect was perceived by 100% of participants with amblyopia that was resolved by 5 years of age and by 100% of participants whose onset at amblyopia developed at or after 5 years of age. However, only 18.8% of participants with amblyopia that was unresolved by 5 years of age (n = 16) perceived the McGurk effect (adjusted odds ratio, 27.0 [95%CI, 1.1-654.0]; P = .02). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This pilot study suggests that children with a history of amblyopia have impaired visual-auditory speech perception. Early childhood appears to serve as an approximate time point for the development of successful visual-auditory fusion, by which time amblyopia must have either resolved or begun. Interventions to resolve amblyopia may not only influence visual acuity but may also influence the perception of sound.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-16
Number of pages6
JournalJAMA ophthalmology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology


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