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October 31, 2010

People blind by birth perceive faster touch than normal vision

A new study suggests that people who are blind from birth are able to detect tactile information faster than people with normal vision.
A group of researchers led by Daniel Goldreich, PhD, of McMaster University explored whether people who 've a special reliance on a particular sense - in the way blind people rely on touch - would process that sense faster.

Goldreich said that their findings reveal that one way the brain adapts to the absence of vision is to accelerate the sense of touch. 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 & 57 people with various levels of vision loss. And they found that 22 people who had been blind since birth performed better than both people with vision & people who had become blind later in life.

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. The study was published in the October issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

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