Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Practice, not loss of sight, improves sense of touch in the blind

Date:
May 16, 2011
Source:
McMaster University
Summary:
New research may answer a controversial question: Do the blind have a better sense of touch because the brain compensates for vision loss or because of heavy reliance on their fingertips? The study suggests daily dependence on touch is the answer.

The device used in the fingertips experiments.
Credit: Image courtesy of McMaster University

New research from McMaster University may answer a controversial question: do the blind have a better sense of touch because the brain compensates for vision loss or because of heavy reliance on their fingertips?

The study, published in the most recent edition of the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests daily dependence on touch is the answer.

Twenty-eight profoundly blind participants -- with varying degrees of Braille expertise -- and 55 normally sighted adults were tested for touch sensitivity on six fingers and both sides of the lower lip.

Researchers reasoned that, if daily dependence on touch improves tactile sensitivity, then blind participants would outperform the sighted on all fingers, and blind Braille readers would show particular sensitivity on their reading fingers. But if vision loss alone improves tactile sensitivity, then blind participants would outperform the sighted on all body areas, even those that blind and sighted people use equally often, such as the lips.

"There have always been these two competing ideas about why blind people have a better sense of touch," explains Daniel Goldreich, corresponding author and a professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour. "We found that dependence on touch is a driving force here. Proficient Braille readers -- those who might spend hours a day reading with their fingertips -- performed remarkably better. But blind and sighted participants performed equally when the lips were tested for sensitivity."

Researchers used a specially-designed machine which held the pad of the participant's fingertip perfectly still for the experiments. While the finger lay over a hole in the table, the machine pushed rods with textured surfaces through the opening until they met the fingertip. Researchers asked subjects to identify the patterns by touch. A similar test was performed on the lower lip.

Not only did blind participants do better than their sighted peers, but Braille readers, when tested on their readings hands, outperformed nonreaders who were also blind. For Braille-reading participants, their reading fingers were more sensitive than their non-reading fingers.

"These results may help us design further experiments to determine how to improve the sense of touch, which could have applications later in life," says Mike Wong, study author and a graduate student in the McMaster Integrative Neuroscience Discovery & Study program. "Braille is extraordinarily difficult to master, particularly as an adult. In future we may find new ways to teach Braille to people who have recently become blind."

The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Michael Wong, Vishi Gnanakumaran and Daniel Goldreich. Tactile Spatial Acuity Enhancement in Blindness: Evidence for Experience-Dependent Mechanisms. The Journal of Neuroscience, 11 May 2011, 31(19):7028-7037 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6461-10.2011

Cite This Page:

McMaster University. "Practice, not loss of sight, improves sense of touch in the blind." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511114209.htm>.
McMaster University. (2011, May 16). Practice, not loss of sight, improves sense of touch in the blind. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511114209.htm
McMaster University. "Practice, not loss of sight, improves sense of touch in the blind." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110511114209.htm (accessed April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A new study out of Canada says cognitive motor performance begins deteriorating around age 24. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
App Fights Jet Lag With The Power Of Math

App Fights Jet Lag With The Power Of Math

Newsy (Apr. 13, 2014) Researchers at the University of Michigan have designed an app to fight jet lag by adjusting your body's light intake. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Treatment Gaps Endangering Cops, Mentally Ill

Treatment Gaps Endangering Cops, Mentally Ill

AP (Apr. 10, 2014) As states slash funding for mental health services, police officers are interacting more than ever with people suffering from schizophrenia and other serious disorders of the mind. The consequences can be deadly. (April 10) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Teen Drinking Rates Linked To Alcohol Mentions In Pop Music

Teen Drinking Rates Linked To Alcohol Mentions In Pop Music

Newsy (Apr. 9, 2014) A University of Pittsburgh study found pop music that mentions alcohol is linked to higher drinking rates among teens. 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:
from the past week

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