Preserved tactile acuity in older pianists

  • Gordon E. LeggeEmail author
  • Christina Granquist
  • Alex Lubet
  • Rachel Gage
  • Ying-Zi Xiong
Short Report


A previous study from our lab demonstrated retention of high tactile acuity throughout the lifespan in blind subjects in contrast to the typical decline found for sighted subjects (Legge, Madison, Vaughn, Cheong & Miller, Percept Psychophys, 70 (8), 1471-1488, 2008). We hypothesize that preserved tactile acuity in old age is due to lifelong experience with focused attention to touch and not to blindness per se. Proficient pianists devote attention to touch – fingerings and dynamics – over years of practice. To test our hypothesis, we measured tactile acuity in groups of ten young (mean age 24.5 years) and 11 old (mean age 64.7 years) normally sighted pianists and compared their results to the blind and sighted subjects in our 2008 study. The pianists, like the subjects in 2008, were tested on two tactile-acuity charts requiring active touch, one composed of embossed Landolt rings and the other composed of dot patterns similar to braille. For both tests, the pianists performed more like the blind subjects than the sighted subjects from our 2008 study. For the ring chart, there was no significant difference in tactile acuity between the young and old pianists and no significant difference between the pianists and the blind subjects. For the dot chart, the pianists showed an age-related decline in tactile acuity, but not as severe as the sighted subjects from 2008. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that lifelong experience with focused attention to touch acts to preserve tactile acuity into old age for both blind and sighted subjects.


Tactile acuity Aging Blind Pianist 



This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant EY002934 and a grant from the Helen Keller Foundation.

Open Practices Statement

The data for all experiments are available at the Data Repository of the University of Minnesota ( None of the data or materials for the experiment reported here was preregistered.

Supplementary material

13414_2019_1844_MOESM1_ESM.docx (67 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 67 kb)


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon E. Legge
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christina Granquist
    • 1
  • Alex Lubet
    • 2
  • Rachel Gage
    • 1
  • Ying-Zi Xiong
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.School of MusicUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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