UCL Institute of Ophthalmology


Visual Development Unit

The Child Vision Lab has always worked closely with the Visual Development Unit.

The Visual Development Unit

Our research aims to understand how the eye and visual brain develop in babies and young children, both in typical and atypical development.

  • The VDU has developed behavioural, EEG, brain imaging, and optical methods to characterize milestones of typical visual development in infants and young children, in particular the onset of cortical systems for vision and visual cognition.These measures have been used to assess infants and children who show severe early cortical visual impairment (CVI) or less disabling problems such as squint, lazy eye, and poor visual attention.
  • We have studied in both genetic and acquired developmental disorders, such as Down’s Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, Autism, Developmental Coordination Disorder, and the results of premature birth or perinatal brain injury.Many of our studies go beyond basic measures of eyesight to perceptual, cognitive, and visuomotor abilities,  to study how children come to understand what they see, and  use it effectively to guide their actions.
  • We have collaborated with many groups worldwide, and currently work with the PLING project in University of California San Diego, the Dolphin project on dietary supplement for at risk infants in the Oxford University Department of Paediatrics, and groups in Italy and the Netherlands who are applying our testing methods.
  • The main goal of the VDU has always been to provide safe and enjoyable infant and child-friendly methods for diagnosing visual and visuo-cognitive problems, so that we can devise appropriate treatment, rehabilitation and education can be provided for all children.   

History of the Visual Development Unit

  • The Visual Development Unit (VDU) has a long history as one of the world’s leading centres for research on human visual development. It was started by Jan Atkinson and Oliver Braddick in Cambridge University in the 1970s, with continuous support from the Medical Research Council from 1976 to 2011 including five successive five-year programme grants. 
  • The VDU moved to University College London (UCL) in 1993 where Jan Atkinson and Oliver Braddick were appointed to chairs. 
  • A second Unit was set up in Oxford University in 2003, following Professor Braddick’s appointment as Head of Experimental Psychology in Oxford. Professor Jan Atkinson continued as the director of the VDU in UCL, she also became UCL’s first Pro-Provost for North America and the first UCL Ambassador for Athena Swan, supporting women’s academic careers in science. 
  • Dr John Wattam Bell, joined the VDU in 1980 and became the Unit’s third Principal Investigator.  He took over running the VDU in 2011 when Jan Atkinson and Oliver Braddick became Emeritus Professors. The VDU team in UCL Psychology and Language Sciences (PaLS) linked up with the Child Vision Lab (CVL) in the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, with joint projects and students and Jan Atkinson and Oliver Braddick playing a collaborative, advisory and mentoring role for researchers in both groups.
  • Following John’s untimely death in December 2013, Profs Atkinson and Braddick took over supervision of John’s students, and remain committed to research of the groups in both the CVL and PaLS.