Visual experience is necessary for efficient haptic face recognition

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Humans are experts for face processing – this expertise develops over the course of several years, given visual input about faces from infancy. Recent studies have shown that individuals can also recognize faces haptically, albeit at lower performance than visually. Given that blind individuals are extensively trained on haptic processing, one may expect them to perform better at recognizing faces from touch than sighted individuals. Here, we tested this hypothesis using matched groups of sighted, congenitally blind, and acquired-blind individuals. Surprisingly, we found little evidence for a performance benefit for blind participants compared with sighted controls. Moreover, the congenitally blind group performed significantly worse than both the sighted and the acquired-blind group. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that visual expertise may be necessary for haptic face recognition; hence, even extensive haptic training cannot easily account for deficits in visual processing.

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