Study shows vision is necessary for spatial awareness tasks

March 21, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- People who lose their sight at a later stage in life have a greater spatial awareness than if they were born blind, according to scientists at Queen Mary, University of London.

The study, published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, examined research which looked at the of sighted and blind people and found that some spatial tasks need .

Co-author on the study, Dr. Michael Proulx from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: “Numerous studies have tested how humans use vision for knowing the spatial locations of things yet few have examined the other senses and whether people with a visual impairment use the same strategies.

“In reviewing research already available, we found visual experience is necessary for the brain to develop the ability to process multisensory information. We use vision and the other senses to create a mental map of where objects are in relation to other objects and the environment.

“Our findings suggest that there is a sensitive period during which visual experience is necessary for the brain to develop those neurons that can represent the world in this way.”

Lead author Dr. Achille Pasqualotto, also from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: “Blindness reveals how well humans can function using the remaining senses, even in a world designed by sighted people for sighted people.

“The brain develops spatial abilities that relate an object’s location to the individual. This makes sense given that a visually impaired person does not see objects at a distance in an environment, but instead acquires their location by personally approaching and identifying them.”

The team is building on their findings now by testing sighted and blind people on a variety of spatial tasks that will explicitly test these findings.

They hope this research will not only reveal the psychological and neural basis for spatial cognition, but also translate into better services for blind persons, such as the development of better navigational tools.

Dr. Proulx said: “We are actively recruiting to participate in our research and we are particularly keen to involve people who have been blind since birth, yet people who lost vision later in life would be welcome to contact us too.”

Explore further: Scans show it's not only sight that helps us get our bearings

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Rat brain atlas provides MR images for stereotaxic surgery

October 21, 2016

Boris Odintsov, senior research scientist at the Biomedical Imaging Center at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and Thomas Brozoski, research professor ...

Imaging technique maps serotonin activity in living brains

October 20, 2016

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that's partly responsible for feelings of happiness and for mood regulation in humans. This makes it a common target for antidepressants, which block serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons ...

Overcoming egocentricity increases self-control

October 19, 2016

Neurobiological models of self-control usually focus on brain mechanisms involved in impulse control and emotion regulation. Recent research at the University of Zurich shows that the mechanism for overcoming egocentricity ...

Exercise may help ward off memory decline

October 19, 2016

Exercise may be associated with a small benefit for elderly people who already have memory and thinking problems, according to new research published in the October 19, 2016, online issue of Neurology, a medical journal of ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.