The sense of touch works faster in people who have been blind from birth than in those with normal vision or those who became blind later in life, a new study finds.
Canadian researchers tested the feeling in the tips of the index fingers of 57 people with various levels of vision loss and 89 sighted people. They found that the 22 participants who had been blind since birth could process tactile information most rapidly and accurately. They also read Braille the fastest.
The study appears in the journal The Journal of Neuroscience.
"Our findings reveal that one way the brain adapts to the absence of vision is to accelerate the sense of touch. The ability to quickly process non-visual information probably enhances the quality of life of blind individuals who rely to an extraordinary degree on the non-visual senses," study leader Daniel Goldreich, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, said.
But the researchers said it's not clear whether this faster perception of touch is due to the brain changes related to blindness or due to a lifetime of practicing Braille.
The findings suggest that a lack of visual experience may alter how the brain processes information acquired by touch, said Richard Held, an expert in brain and visual development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not affiliated with the study.
"The heightened skill of tactile integration seems to account for the remarkable speed of Braille-reading demonstrated by some congenitally blind individuals," he added.