Tactile Acuity is Enhanced in Blindness
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Functional imaging studies in blind subjects have shown tactile activation of cortical areas that normally subserve vision, but whether blind people have enhanced tactile acuity has long been controversial. We compared the passive tactile acuity of blind and sighted subjects on a fully automated grating orientation task and used multivariate Bayesian data analysis to determine predictors of acuity. Acuity was significantly superior in blind subjects, independently of the degree of childhood vision, light perception level, or Braille reading. Acuity was strongly dependent on the force of contact between the stimulus surface and the skin, declined with subject age, and was better in women than in men. Despite large intragroup variability, the difference between blind and sighted subjects was highly significant: the average blind subject had the acuity of an average sighted subject of the same gender but 23 years younger. The results suggest that crossmodal plasticity may underlie tactile acuity enhancement in blindness.
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