Tactile spatial resolution in blind Braille readers

Robert W. Van Boven, R. H. Hamilton, T. Kauffman, J. P. Keenan, Alvaro Pascual-Leone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

266 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: To determine if blind people have heightened tactile spatial acuity. Background: Recently, studies using magnetic source imaging and somatosensory evoked potentials have shown that the cortical representation of the reading fingers of blind Braille readers is expanded compared to that of fingers of sighted subjects. Furthermore, the visual cortex is activated during certain tactile tasks in blind subjects but not sighted subjects. The authors hypothesized that the expanded cortical representation of fingers used in Braille reading may reflect an enhanced fidelity in the neural transmission of spatial details of a stimulus. If so, the quantitative limit of spatial acuity would be superior in blind people. Methods: The authors employed a grating orientation discrimination task in which threshold performance is accounted for by the spatial resolution limits of the neural image evoked by a stimulus. The authors quantified the psychophysical limits of spatial acuity at the middle and index fingers of 15 blind Braille readers and 15 sighted control subjects. Results: The mean grating orientation threshold was significantly (p = 0.003) lower in the blind group (1.04 mm) compared to the sighted group (1.46 mm). The self-reported dominant reading finger in blind subjects had a mean grating orientation threshold of 0.80 mm, which was significantly better than other fingers tested. Thresholds at non- Braille reading fingers in blind subjects averaged 1.12 mm, which were also superior to sighted subjects' performances. Conclusion: Superior tactile spatial acuity in blind Braille readers may represent an adaptive, behavioral correlate of cortical plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2230-2236
Number of pages7
JournalNeurology
Volume54
Issue number12
StatePublished - 27 Jun 2000

Keywords

  • Blindness
  • Discrimination learning
  • Form perception
  • Touch

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