The visually deprived brain undergoes extensive remodeling due to cross-modal plasticity. This leads to increased areas of the cortex being available for other purposes such as tactile processing. Now I am wondering if there is anything known about how long it takes for the blind to learn Braille as compared to normally sighted people?


The time required to learn Braille may vary depending on factors such as age, partial/full and early/late blindness and individual differences (see here), but what has come out of studies such as this is that visual deprivation appears to speed up Braille learning.

In the study I cite, all subjects received the same degree of training, but individuals who had been blindfolded for five days performed better in a Braille discrimination task compared to sighted subjects. The authors take these results to be possibly indicative (though there are some concerns on this suggestion in the article) of neuroplastic changes (Hamilton & Pascual-Leone, 1998) specifically in the somatosensory and visual cortices. Visual deprivation might lead to the recruitment of visual cortex areas for tactile discrimination thus enabling for faster Braille learning.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the reference to the Ryles study. I have emailed her in the hopes to get the real publication. A nice lead. However, the Kaufman study is iffy, as it claims that practice does not make a difference - 'just wear a blindfold'. A bit of a PLOSone'ish conclusion. Your last sentences on plasticity are circular in nature. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 7 '14 at 4:00

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