Early but not late blindness leads to enhanced auditory perception.
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.
By Wan CY, Wood AG, Reutens DC, Wilson SJ.