Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Blind people perceive touch faster than those with sight

Date:
October 28, 2010
Source:
Society for Neuroscience
Summary:
People who are blind from birth are able to detect tactile information faster than people with normal vision, according to a new study.

People who are blind from birth are able to detect tactile information faster than people with normal vision, according to a new study.
Credit: iStockphoto/Marilyn Nieves

People who are blind from birth are able to detect tactile information faster than people with normal vision, according to a study in the Oct. 27 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Related Articles


The brain requires a fraction of a second to register a sight, sound, or touch. In this study, a group of researchers led by Daniel Goldreich, PhD, of McMaster University explored whether people who have a special reliance on a particular sense -- in the way blind people rely on touch -- would process that sense faster.

"Our findings reveal that one way the brain adapts to the absence of vision is to accelerate the sense of touch," Goldreich said. "The ability to quickly process non-visual information probably enhances the quality of life of blind individuals who rely to an extraordinary degree on the non-visual senses."

The authors tested the tactile skills of 89 people with sight and 57 people with various levels of vision loss. The volunteers were asked to discern the movements of a small probe that was tapped against the tips of their index fingers. Both groups performed the same on simple tasks, such as distinguishing small taps versus stronger taps. But when a small tap was followed almost instantly by a larger and longer-lasting vibration, the vibration interfered with most participants' ability to detect the tap -- a phenomenon called masking. However, the 22 people who had been blind since birth performed better than both people with vision and people who had become blind later in life.

"We think interference happens because the brain has not yet completed the neural processing required to fully perceive the tap before the vibration arrives and disrupts it," Goldreich said. "The more time between the tap and the vibration, the more formed the perception of the tap will be, and the less interference the vibration will cause."

The authors measured the minimum amount of time needed for participants to perceive sensory input by varying the period between the tap and the vibration. They found that congenitally blind people required shorter periods than anyone else. Those same individuals also read Braille fastest. The authors note that each blind person's perception time was approximately equal to the average time that person took to move a finger from one Braille character to the next as they read.

The findings suggest that early onset blindness leads to faster perception of touch. However, whether that advantage is due to the brain adapting to the absence of vision -- a change called plasticity -- or to a lifetime of practicing Braille is still unclear.

Richard Held, PhD, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an expert in the brain and visual development who was unaffiliated with the study, said the results suggest that a lack of visual experience changes how information acquired by touch is processed.

"The heightened skill of tactile integration seems to account for the remarkable speed of Braille-reading demonstrated by some congenitally blind individuals," Held said. "This work constitutes a solid step forward in our understanding of the interaction between senses."

The research was supported by the National Eye Institute and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council in Canada.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Neuroscience. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. Bhattacharjee, A. J. Ye, J. A. Lisak, M. G. Vargas, D. Goldreich. Vibrotactile Masking Experiments Reveal Accelerated Somatosensory Processing in Congenitally Blind Braille Readers. Journal of Neuroscience, 2010; 30 (43): 14288 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1447-10.2010

Cite This Page:

Society for Neuroscience. "Blind people perceive touch faster than those with sight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101026172021.htm>.
Society for Neuroscience. (2010, October 28). Blind people perceive touch faster than those with sight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101026172021.htm
Society for Neuroscience. "Blind people perceive touch faster than those with sight." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101026172021.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Having children has always been a frightening prospect in Sierra Leone, the world's most dangerous place to give birth, but Ebola has presented an alarming new threat for expectant mothers. Duration: 00:37 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Paralyzed Marine Walks With Robotic Braces

Raw: Paralyzed Marine Walks With Robotic Braces

AP (Nov. 21, 2014) Marine Corps officials say a special operations officer left paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in Afghanistan walked using robotic leg braces in a ceremony to award him a Bronze Star. (Nov. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins