Until now, similar studies have mainly focused on hearing in near space that can be calibrated by touch or, for example, with a cane. For this particular study, Professor Lepore and his team subjected three groups of ten people each (early- and late-onset blind subjects and a control group of blindfolded, sighted subjects) to spatial hearing tests in which each subject had to locate sounds from three meters away and distinguish them from other ambient noise. The early- and late-onset blind participants were far more successful than the control group at both tasks.
"Humans are remarkably adaptable. We can't quite explain these results," said Professor Lepore. "Of course, hearing is far more important to blind people so it's possible that they spend proportionately more time developing this sense. It's also possible that their superior performance reflects cross-modal cortical reorganization."
Professor Lepore's research team has long been interested in cross-modal cortical reorganization and the use of different sensory systems to compensate for losses. Back in 1998, Nature published the team's study on near-space auditory mapping by blind people. Earlier this year, this same journal published another study by this group on superior tone discrimination abilities in the blind. The study published to
Contact: Sophie Langlois
University of Montreal