If you’ve ever known anyone with some type of disability, whether it was hearing loss, blindness, or another sensory disability, you may have noticed the way the body compensates. For example, a person who can’t see may have improved hearing over those who can both see and hear. According to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience, blindness may improve a person’s ability to understand and process tactile information.
Dr. Daniel Goldreich with McMaster University led the research team to specifically evaluate whether a person with a sensory disability would be able to process the tactile sense faster. One of the challenges to performing such a study is the brain’s ability to register sensations, such as touch or sight. The brain is capable of doing this within a fraction of a second in most individuals.
According to the study results, the team was able to confirm that the body will compensate for blindness with an increased sense of touch. To test this, the team studied 89 people with sight and 57 people with blindness of some type. The blind group had members of varying sight levels.
One of the areas for the study revolved around the concept of masking, which is where the body may miss or misunderstand a sensation when it comes back to back on another one. Participants were asked to detect a tap on their index finger and discern the intensity of the tap. If a longer tap immediately followed a small tap, the first sensation masked the second one more often in the individuals with sight than with the individuals who had vision impairment.
The people who performed the best throughout the study were the 22 participants who had complete vision loss since birth. Their tactile sense even surpassed those who had lost their eye sight later in life. As a result of the study, Goldreich’s team hypothesizes that multiple senses can delay the brain’s ability to process back-to-back sensations.