Neurophysiological evidence for enhanced tactile acuity in early blindness in some but not all haptic tasks

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Abstract

Previous research assessing the presence of enhanced tactile skills in early-blind (EB) population obtained conflicting results. Most of the studies relied on behavioral measures with which different mechanisms leading to the same outcome go unnoticed. Moreover, the scarce electrophysiological research that has been conducted focused exclusively on the processing of microgeometric properties. To clarify the extent of superior tactile abilities in EBs using high-density multichannel electrophysiological recordings, the present study compared the electrophysiological correlates of EBs and sighted controls (CON) in two tactile discrimination tasks that targeted microgeometric (texture) and macrogeometric (shape) properties. After a restricted exploration (haptic glance), participants judged whether a touched stimulus corresponded to an expected stimulus whose name had been previously presented aurally. In the texture discrimination task, differences between groups emerged at ˜75 ms (early perceptual processing stages) whereas we found no between-group differences during shape discrimination. Furthermore, for the first time, we were able to determine the latency at which EBs started to discriminate micro- (EB: 170 ms; CON: 230 ms) and macrogeometric (EB: 250 ms; CON: 270 ms) properties. Altogether, the results suggest different electrophysiological signatures during texture (but not shape) discrimination in EBs, possibly due to cortical reorganization in occipital areas and their increased connectivity with S1.

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