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Study Reports People Born Blind Have More Accurate Memories

Update Date: Apr 29, 2013 12:09 PM EDT

Previous research and speculations have suggested that people who are blind often have heightened other senses, such as scent and hearing that help them adapt to their environments. According to a new study done by researchers from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, people who are congenitally blind, meaning that they were born without eyesight, might have better and more accurate memories than people with vision. The study looked into the possible distortions and illusions in memory that might result from being able to see different angles or aspects of particular situations. These distortions might explain why people without the sense of sight have more accurate memories since they are not at risk for possible illusions.

The researchers, who were from the University's Department of Psychology, along with a research assistant from Queen Mary University of London, experimented on three different groups of people. The groups were made up of congenitally blind people, people suffering from late onset blindness and people who were not blind at all. The researchers tested the groups on their ability to recall a series of word lists, which tested their memory skills. The researchers discovered that congenitally blind people were better able to remember the word lists and were less likely to create false memories. False memories result when people hear similar words and then believe that other relatable words were recited as well even though they were not a part of the list. For example, if a list contained the words, chimney, fire and cigar, a false memory could be the word smoke. The ability to be able to see these words and link them to other images related to the words could explain the creation of false memories. The group that performed the worst on the memory test was the group with late onset blindness.

"Our results show that visual experience has a significant negative impact on both the number of items remembered and the accuracy of semantic memory and also demonstrate the importance of adaptive neural plasticity in the congenitally blind brain for enhanced memory retrieval mechanisms," said the lead researcher, Dr. Micahel Proulx. "There is an old Hebrew proverb that believes the blind were the most trustworthy sources for quotations and that certainly seems true in this case. It will be interesting to see whether congenitally blind individuals would also be better witnesses in forensic studies."

The results were published in the journal, Behavioral Brain Research

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