Article

Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 70, Issue 8, pp 1471-1488

Retention of high tactile acuity throughout the life span in blindness

  • Gordon E. LeggeAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Minnesota Email author 
  • , Cindee MadisonAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Minnesota
  • , Brenna N. VaughnAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Minnesota
  • , Allen M. Y. CheongAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Minnesota
  • , Joseph C. MillerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Minnesota

Abstract

Previous studies of tactile acuity on the fingertip, using passive touch, have demonstrated an age-related decline in spatial resolution for both sighted and blind subjects. We have reexamined this age dependence with two newly designed tactile-acuity charts that require active exploration of the test symbols. One chart used dot patterns similar to braille, and the other used embossed Landolt rings. Groups of blind braille readers and sighted subjects ranging from 12 to 85 years old were tested in two experiments. We replicated previous findings for sighted subjects by showing an age-related decrease in tactile acuity by nearly 1% per year. Surprisingly, the blind subjects retained high acuity into old age, showing no age-related decline. For the blind subjects, tactile acuity did not correlate with braille reading speed, the amount of daily reading, or the age at which braille was learned. We conclude that when measured with active touch, blind subjects retain high tactile acuity into old age, unlike their aging sighted peers. We propose that blind people's use of active touch in daily activities, not specifically braille reading, results in preservation of tactile acuity across the life span.