Journal article Open Access
Congenitally blind infants are not only deprived of visual input but also of visual influences on the intact senses. The important role that vision plays in the early development of multisensory spatial perception1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (e.g., in crossmodal calibration8, 9, 10 and in the formation of multisensory spatial representations of the body and the world1,2) raises the possibility that impairments in spatial perception are at the heart of the wide range of difficulties that visually impaired infants show across spatial,8, 9, 10, 11, 12 motor,13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and social domains.8,18,19 But investigations of early development are needed to clarify how visually impaired infants’ spatial hearing and touch support their emerging ability to make sense of their body and the outside world. We compared sighted (S) and severely visually impaired (SVI) infants’ responses to auditory and tactile stimuli presented on their hands. No statistically reliable differences in the direction or latency of responses to auditory stimuli emerged, but significant group differences emerged in responses to tactile and audiotactile stimuli. The visually impaired infants showed attenuated audiotactile spatial integration and interference, weighted more tactile than auditory cues when the two were presented in conflict, and showed a more limited influence of representations of the external layout of the body on tactile spatial perception.20 These findings uncover a distinct phenotype of multisensory spatial perception in early postnatal visual deprivation. Importantly, evidence of audiotactile spatial integration in visually impaired infants, albeit to a lesser degree than in sighted infants, signals the potential of multisensory rehabilitation methods in early development.