Do blind people recall speech better than sighted people?

A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Irvine, theorizes that blind people may remember speech and language better than sighted people. The study was published in the scientific journal Experimental Brain Research. The lead author is Karen Arcos, a blind postdoctoral fellow at University of California, Santa Cruz who earned her PhD at University of California, Irvine.

The participants in the study were separated in two groups: 20 blind adults and 22 blindfolded sighted ones. The experiments included memory tests for verbal material while mentally multitasking as well as memory tests for sound effects without any verbal element.

Blind participants out-performed sighted ones on remembering speech: they remembered more letters in the tests with the verbal material than the sighted participants. However, in the task with the meaningless sound effects where participants couldn’t use language to remember them, no statistically important difference was observed between the two groups.

The lead author Karen Arcos, is a postdoctoral fellow at University of California, Santa Cruz, and totally blind herself. Arcos explains: “On a daily basis, blind people use their memory much more to remember things, while sighted people can rely on visual clues to recall information (…) We think blind people’s advantages on the verbal tests stem from increased practice remembering information. The brain area responsible for vision in sighted people, the ‘visual’ cortex, is repurposed for other functions in blind people. Perhaps it enhances blind people’s language processing.”