Science News has reported that, contrary to a popular notion that blind people have keener hearing than sighted people, a new study shows that many blind people don’t necessarily hear well in all directions. According to an April 28, 2015 article on ScienceNews.org, some blind people have enhanced perception in the areas of pitch and peripheral sound localization (sounds at the front and sides), but they aren’t necessarily better at hearing sounds that originate above or below them.
“We have this idea that people without vision are necessarily better in all other senses,” David Charles Burr, PhD, a vision researcher at the University of Florence in Italy said in the article. “But it’s not necessarily the case.”
According to a study conducted by Patrice Voss, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, while some people who have been blind for most of their lives do have enhanced hearing, this hearing enhancement is a sensory tradeoff in regard to directional hearing.
As described in an April 15, 2015 article in The Journal of Neuroscience, Voss and colleagues examined how blind people navigate in the horizontal and vertical planes by replaying sounds for sighted people and people who have been blind since childhood. The sounds the scientists played came from either the front and sides (the horizontal plane) or above and below (the vertical plane).
The scientists learned that while some blind people were better at locating sounds in the horizontal plane, they had difficulty locating sounds up and down. Their findings indicate that the improved use of spectral cues in the horizontal plane in some blind people may be a tradeoff for abilities in the vertical plane—not simply an enhancement that comes from being blind.
For more information on the findings of this study, please see the Science News article by Bethany Brookshire, or the study article in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Sources: Journal of Neuroscience, Science News
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