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According to a new UCI-led study, adults who are blind remember verbal information in the short-term better than sighted individuals. The findings, published in Brain Research, provide insight on the role senses and socioeconomic status play in learning among blind and sighted adults.

“Individuals who are blind must rely extensively on nonvisual memory strategies to complete everyday tasks that sighted individuals typically accomplish visually,” says lead author Karen Arcos, ’20 UCI cognitive neuroscience Ph.D. and now a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Santa Cruz. “Understanding how daily practice impacts memory is important for creating or improving strategies used to educate blind and sighted individuals alike to maximize learning.”

To test differences in recall abilities between sighted and blind individuals across different senses, Arcos teamed up with UCI researchers Susan Jaeggi, education and cognitive sciences professor, and Emily Grossman, cognitive sciences professor. They performed a series of auditory, visual and braille memory tasks with almost 80 participants – 25 percent of whom became blind between birth and age 12. The remaining 75 percent of participants were sighted. Participants also reported demographic information that helped researchers track if socioeconomic factors affected differences in recall ability.

“We found that blind people remember heard information better than information read in braille when manipulating the information in memory. And blind people remember heard information in short-term memory better than sighted people,” says Arcos. “Sighted participants remembered seen information better than heard information. We also found slightly bigger differences when comparing short-term memory in blind and sighted people of similar age, maternal education, and income.”

In everyday application, the findings emphasize the need for presenting information in numerous formats to accommodate more equal engaging with material among sighted and blind individuals.

“Depending on the content and what someone needs to do with that information, one or more formats may be more useful,” says Arcos. “If someone needs to jot down a phone number at a party, seeing or reading it in an accessible format might be easier than hearing it amidst loud music, for example.”

From here, Arcos recommends researchers dive deeper into understanding why manipulating certain information in memory is harder when reading in braille compared to when hearing it.

“We also have yet to understand when blind people develop their memory advantage over sighted people on some tasks and if these benefits may be associated with resilience,” she says.

Funding for this study was provided by two National Science Foundation awards under award numbers DGE-1321843 and BCS-1658560, a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, and UCI.

 

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