Early but not late-blindness leads to enhanced auditory perception

Catherine Y. Wan, Amanda G. Wood, David C. Reutens, Sarah J. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The notion that blindness leads to superior non-visual abilities has been postulated for centuries. Compared to sighted individuals, blind individuals show different patterns of brain activation when performing auditory tasks. To date, no study has controlled for musical experience, which is known to influence auditory skills. The present study tested 33 blind (11 congenital, 11 early-blind, 11 late-blind) participants and 33 matched sighted controls. We showed that the performance of blind participants was better than that of sighted participants on a range of auditory perception tasks, even when musical experience was controlled for. This advantage was observed only for individuals who became blind early in life, and was even more pronounced for individuals who were blind from birth. Years of blindness did not predict task performance. Here, we provide compelling evidence that superior auditory abilities in blind individuals are not explained by musical experience alone. These results have implications for the development of sensory substitution devices, particularly for late-blind individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-348
Number of pages5
JournalNeuropsychologia
Volume48
Issue number1
Early online date22 Aug 2009
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010

Keywords

  • blind
  • onset age
  • brain plasticity
  • auditory perception

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