Published June 7, 2022 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Spatial Memory and Blindness: The Role of Visual Loss on the Exploration and Memorization of Spatialized Sounds

  • 1. Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia
  • 2. Istituto David Chiossone


Spatial memory relies on encoding, storing, and retrieval of knowledge about objects’
positions in their surrounding environment. Blind people have to rely on sensory
modalities other than vision to memorize items that are spatially displaced, however,
to date, very little is known about the influence of early visual deprivation on a person’s
ability to remember and process sound locations. To fill this gap, we tested sighted and
congenitally blind adults and adolescents in an audio-spatial memory task inspired by
the classical card game “Memory.” In this research, subjects (blind, n = 12; sighted,
n = 12) had to find pairs among sounds (i.e., animal calls) displaced on an audiotactile
device composed of loudspeakers covered by tactile sensors. To accomplish
this task, participants had to remember the spatialized sounds’ position and develop
a proper mental spatial representation of their locations. The test was divided into two
experimental conditions of increasing difficulty dependent on the number of sounds to
be remembered (8 vs. 24). Results showed that sighted participants outperformed blind
participants in both conditions. Findings were discussed considering the crucial role of
visual experience in properly manipulating auditory spatial representations, particularly
in relation to the ability to explore complex acoustic configurations.



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