Interactions of cognitive and auditory abilities in congenitally blind individuals

Ariel Rokem, Merav Ahissar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations

Abstract

Congenitally blind individuals have been found to show superior performance in perceptual and memory tasks. In the present study, we asked whether superior stimulus encoding could account for performance in memory tasks. We characterized the performance of a group of congenitally blind individuals on a series of auditory, memory and executive cognitive tasks and compared their performance to that of sighted controls matched for age, education and musical training. As expected, we found superior verbal spans among congenitally blind individuals. Moreover, we found superior speech perception, measured by resilience to noise, and superior auditory frequency discrimination. However, when memory span was measured under conditions of equivalent speech perception, by adjusting the signal to noise ratio for each individual to the same level of perceptual difficulty (80% correct), the advantage in memory span was completely eliminated. Moreover, blind individuals did not possess any advantage in cognitive executive functions, such as manipulation of items in memory and math abilities. We propose that the short-term memory advantage of blind individuals results from better stimulus encoding, rather than from superiority at subsequent processing stages.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)843-848
Number of pages6
JournalNeuropsychologia
Volume47
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a Center of Excellence grant from the Israeli Science Foundation, and by the Volkswagen foundation. Ariel Rokem was partially supported through a scholarship from the Vera and David Finkel Student Aid Endowment Fund.

Keywords

  • Auditory perception
  • Blindness
  • Cross-modal compensation
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Short-term memory
  • Working memory

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