Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 301–312 | Cite as

Tactile perception in blind Braille readers: A psychophysical study of acuity and hyperacuity using gratings and dot patterns

  • Arthur C. Grant
  • Mahesh C. Thiagarajah
  • K. SathianEmail author


It is not clear whether the blind are generally superior to the sighted on measures of tactile sensitivity or whether they excel only on certain tests owing to the specifics of their tactile experience. We compared the discrimination performance of blind Braille readers and age-matched sighted subjects on three tactile tasks using precisely specified stimuli. Initially, the blind significantly outperformed the sighted at a hyperacuity task using Braille-like dot patterns, although, with practice, both groups performed equally well. On two other tasks, hyperacute discrimination of gratings that differed in ridge width and spatial-acuity-dependent discrimination of grating orientation, the performance of the blind did not differ significantly from that of sighted subjects. These results probably reflect the specificity of perceptual learning due to Braille-reading experience.


Dominant Hand Perceptual Learning Groove Width Blind Subject Tactile Perception 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adams, R. D., &Victor, M. (1993).Principles of neurology (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  2. Bailes.S. M., &Lambert, R. M. (1986). Cognitive aspects of haptic form recognition by blind and sighted subjects.British Journal of Psychology,77, 451–458.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Büchel, C, Price, C. Frackowiak, R. S. J., &Friston, K. (1998). Different activation patterns in the visual cortex of late and congenitally blind subjects.Brain,121, 409–419.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Cohen.L. G., Celnik, P., Pascual-Leone, A., Corwell, B..Faiz, L., Dambrosia, J., Honda, M., Sadato, N., Gerloff, C, Catala, M. D., &Hallett, M. (1997). Functional relevance of cross-modal plasticity in blind humans.Nature,389, 180–183.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. CRAIG, J. C. (1988). The role of experience in tactual pattern perception: A preliminary report.International Journal of Rehabilitation Research,11, 167–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. D’ Angiulli, A., Kennedy, J. M., &Heller, M. A. (1998). Blind children recognizing tactile pictures respond like sighted children given guidance in exploration.Scandinavian Journal of Psychology,39, 187–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Davidson, P. W. (1972). Haptic judgments of curvature by blind and sighted humans.Journal of Experimental Psychology,93, 43–55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Foulke, E., &Warm, J. S. (1967). Effects of complexity and redundancy on the tactual recognition of metric figures.Perceptual & Motor Skills,25, 177–187.Google Scholar
  9. Galletti, C, Battaglini, P. P., &Fattori, P. (1991). Functional properties of neurons in the anterior bank of the parieto-occipital sulcus of the macaque monkey.European Journal of Neuroscience,3, 452–461.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Gibson, E. J. (1969).Principles of perceptual learning and development. New York: Meredith.Google Scholar
  11. Gilbert, C. D. (1994). Early perceptual learning.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,91, 1195–1197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Grant, A. C, Thiagarajah, M., Chevalier.S. J., &Sathian, K. (1997). Tactile perception in blind Braillereaders.Society for Neuroscience Abstracts,23, 98.14.Google Scholar
  13. Grant, A. C, Zangaladze, A., Thiagarajah, M. C, &Sathian, K. (1999). Tactile perception in developmental dyslexia: A psychophysical study using gratings.Neuropsychologia,37, 1201–1211.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Griesbach, H. (1899). Vergleichende Untersuchungen über die Sinnesschärfe Blinder und Sehender [Comparative studies of perceptual acuity in the blind and the sighted].Pflügers Archiv,74, 577–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heller.M. A. (1989a). Picture and pattern perception in the sighted and the blind: The advantage of the late blind.Perception,18, 379–389.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Heller, M. A. (1989b). Texture perception in sighted and blind observers.Perception & Psychophysics,45, 49–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heller, M. A., Calcaterra, J. A., Tyler, L. A., &Burson, L.L. (1996). Production and interpretation of perspective drawings by blind and sighted people.Perception,25, 321–334.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Heller, M. A., Kennedy, J. M., &Joyner, T. D. (1995). Production and interpretation of pictures of houses by blind people.Perception,24, 1049–1058.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hollins, M. (1989).Understanding blindness. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  20. Hubel, D. H., &Wiesel.T. N. (1977). Ferrier Lecture: Functional architecture of macaque monkey visual cortex.Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Series B,198, 1–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Johansson, R.S., &Vallbo, A. B. (1979). Tactile sensibility in the human hand: Relative and absolute densities of four types of mechanoreceptive units in glabrous skin.Journal of Physiology,286, 283–300.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Johnson, K. O., &Lamb, G. D. (1981 ). Neural mechanisms of spatial tactile discrimination: Neural patterns evoked by Braille-like dot patterns in the monkey.Journal of Physiology,310, 117–144.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnson, K. O., &Phillips, J. R. (1981). Tactile spatial resolution. I. Two-point discrimination, gap detection, grating resolution and letter recognition.Journal of Neurophysiology,46, 1177–1191.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Kennedy.J. M (1997). How the blind draw.Scientific American,276, 60–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Klatzky, R. L., Lederman, S., &Reed, C. (1987). There’s moreto touch than meets the eye: The salience of object attributes for haptics with and without vision.Journal of Experimental Psvchologv: General,116, 356–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Krueger, L. E. (1970). David Katz’s Der Aufbau der Tastwelt (The world of touch: A synopsis).Perception & Psychophysics,7, 337–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lederman, S. J., Klatzky, R. L., Chataway, C, &Summers, C. D. (1990). Visual mediation and the haptic recognition of two-dimensional pictures of common objects.Perception & Psychophysics,47, 54–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lederman.S. J., &Taylor, M. M. (1972). Fingertip force, surface geometry, and the perception of roughness by active touch.Perception & Psychophysics,12, 401–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Loomis, J. M (1979). Aninvestigation of tactile hyperacuity.Sensory Processes,3, 289–302.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Loomis, J. M. (1981). On the tangibility of letters and Braille.Perception & Psychophysics,29, 37–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Macmillan, N. A., &Creelman, C. D. (1991).Detection theory:A user’s guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Meenes, M, &Zigler, M. J. (1923). An experimental study of the perceptions roughness and smoothness.American Journal of Psvchology,34, 542–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Merzenich.M. M., &Jenkins, W. M. (1993). Reorganization of cortical representations of the hand following alterations of skin inputs induced by nerve injury, skin island transfers, and experience.Journal of Hand Therapy,6, 89–104.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Millar, S. (1994).Understanding and representing space: Theory and evidence from studies with blind and sighted children. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Morley, J. W., Goodwin, A. W., &Darian-Smith, 1. (1983). Tactile discrimination of gratings.Experimental Brain Research,49, 291–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Morrongiello, B. A., Humphrey, K., Timney, B., Choi, J., &Rocca, P. T. (1994). Tactual object exploration and recognition in blind and sighted children.Perception,23, 833–848.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Mousty, P., &Bertelson, P. (1985). A study of Braille reading: 1. Reading speed as a function of hand usage and context.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,37A, 217–233.Google Scholar
  38. Pascual-Leone, A., &Torres, F. (1993). Plasticity of the sensorimotor cortex representation of the reading finger in Braille readers.Brain,116, 39–52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Pascual-Leone, A., Wasserman, E.M., Sadato, N., &Hallett, M. (1995). The role of reading activity on the modulation of motor cortical outputs to the reading hand in Braille readers.Annals of Neurology,38, 910–915.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Phillips, J. R., &Johnson, K. O. (1981). Tactile spatial resolution: II. Neural representation of bars, edges and gratings in monkey primary afférents.Journal of Neurophysiology,46, 1192–1203.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Phillips, J. R., Johnson, K. O., &Browne, H. M. (1983). A comparison of visual and two modes of tactual letter resolution.Perception & Psychophysics,34, 243–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Raczkowski, D., Kalat, J. W., &Nebes, R. (1974). Reliability and validity of some handedness questionnaire items.Neuropsvchologia,12, 43–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Randolph, M., &Semmes, J. (1974). Behavioral consequences of selective subtotal ablations in the postcentral gyrus of Macaca mulatta.Brain Research,70, 55–70.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Reed, C. M., Doherty, M. J., Braida, L. D., &Durlach, N. I. (1982). Analytic study of the Tadoma method: Further experiments with inexperienced observers.Journal of Speech & Hearing Research,25, 216–223.Google Scholar
  45. Reed, C. M., Rabinowitz, W. M., Durlach, N. I., &Braida.L. D. (1985). Research on the Tadoma method of speech communication.Journal of the Acoustical Society of America,11, 247–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Reed, C. M., Rubin, S. I., Braida, L. D., &Durlach, N. I. (1978). Analytic study of the Tadoma method: Discrimination ability of untrained observers.Journal of Speech& Hearing Research,21, 625–637.Google Scholar
  47. Roland, P. E. (1987). Somatosensory detection of microgeometry, macrogeometry and kinesthesia after localized lesions of the cerebral hemi-spheres in man.Brain Research Reviews,12, 43–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Roland, P. E., &Mortensen, E. (1987). Somatosensory detection of microgeometry, macrogeometry and kinesthesia in man.Brain Research Reviews,12, 1–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sadato, N., Pascual-Leone, A., Grafman, J., Deiber, M.-P., Ibanez, V., &Hallett, M. (1998). Neural networks forBraille reading by the blind.Brain,121, 1213–1229.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Sadato, N., Pascual-Leone, A., Grafman, J., Ibanez, V, Deiber, M.-P., Dold, G., &Hallett, M. (1996). Activation of the primary visual cortex by Braille reading in blind subjects.Nature,380, 526–528.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Sagi, D, &Tanne, D. (1994). Perceptual learning: Learning to see.Current Opinion in Neurobiology,4, 195–199.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Sathian, K. (1989). Tactile sensing of surface features.Trends in Neurosciences,12, 513–519.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Sathian, K., Goodwin, A. W., John, K. T., &Darian-Smith, I. (1989). Perceived roughness of a grating: Correlationwith responses of mechanoreceptive afferents innervating the monkey’s fingerpad.Journal of Neuroscience,9, 1273–1279.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Sathian, K., &Zangaladze, A. (1996). Tactile spatial acuity at the human fingertip and lip: Bilateral symmetry and inter-digit variability.Neurology,46, 1464–1466.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Sathian, K., &Zangaladze, A. (1997). Tactile learning is taskspecific but transfers between fingers.Perception & Psychophvsics,59, 119–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sathian, K., &Zangaladze, A. (1998). Perceptual learning in tactile hyperacuity: Complete intermanualtransfer but limited retention.Experimental Brain Research,118, 131–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sathian, K., Zangaladze, A., Hoffman, J. M.,&Grafton.S.T. (1997). Feeling with the mind’s eye.Neuro Report,8, 3877–3881.Google Scholar
  58. Sergent, J., Ohta, S., &Macdonald, B. (1992). Functional neuroanatomy of face and object processing: A positron emission tomogra-phy study.Brain,115, 15–36.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Shimizu, Y, Saida, S., &Shimura, H. (1993). Tactile pattern recognition bygraphic display: Importanceof 3-D information for haptic perception of familiar objects.Perception & Psychophysics,53, 43–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Summers, D. C, &Lederman, S. J. (1990). Perceptual asymmetries in the somatosensory system: A dichhaptic experimentand critical review of the literature from 1929 to1986.Cortex,26, 201–226.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Van Boven, R. W., &Johnson.K. O. (1994a). Thelimit of tactile spatial resolution in humans: Gratingorientationdiscrimination at the lip, tongue and finger.Neurology,44, 2361–2366.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Van Boven, R. W., &Johnson, K. O. (1994b). A psychophysical study of the mechanisms of sensory recovery following nerve injury in humans.Brain,117, 149–167.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Westheimer, G. (1977). Spatial frequency and light-spread descriptions of visual acuity and hyperacuity.Journal of the Optical Society of America,67, 207–212.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Wheat, H. E., Goodwin, A. W., &Browning, A. S. (1995). Tactile resolution: Peripheral neural mechanisms underlying the human capacity to determine positions of objects contacting the fingerpad.Journal of Neuroscience,15, 5582–5595.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Zangaladze A., Epstein, C. M., Grafton, S. T., &Sathian, K. (1999). Involvement of visual cortex in tactile discrimination or orientation.Nature,401, 587–590.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur C. Grant
    • 1
  • Mahesh C. Thiagarajah
    • 1
  • K. Sathian
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of NeurologyEmory University School of MedicineAtlanta

Personalised recommendations