Blind people are 'serial memory' whizzes

June 21, 2007

Compared to people with normal vision, those who were blind at birth tend to have excellent memories. Now, a new study reported online on June 21st in the journal Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press, shows that blind individuals are particular whizzes when it comes to remembering things in the right order.

The findings are a good example of the familiar adage that "practice makes perfect" and reveal that mental capabilities may be refined or adjusted in order to compensate for the lack of a sensory input, according to researchers Noa Raz and Ehud Zohary of Hebrew University.

"Our opinion is that the superior serial memory of the blind is most likely a result of practice," Zohary said. "In the absence of vision, the world is experienced as a sequence of events. Since the blind constantly use serial-memory strategies in everyday circumstances, they tend to develop superior skills."

For example, the blind tend to navigate the world by forming "route-like" sequential representations. Blind people also rely on serial-memory strategies to identify otherwise indistinguishable objects, such as different brands of yogurt that vary only in their labeling, the researchers noted. According to their own reports, in order to correctly choose a desired item, the blind typically place objects in a fashioned order and give them ordinal tags, such as "the 3rd item on the left." Thus, a memory for the order in which items are encountered may be especially important for blind people's ability to create mental pictures of a scene.

In the new study, the researchers tested the performance of 19 congenitally blind individuals and individually matched sighted controls in two types of memory tasks: item memory and serial memory. In the item-memory tasks, subjects were asked to identify 20 words from a list they heard. In the serial-memory tasks, subjects had to remember not only the words, but also their ordinal position in the list.

Those who were blind recalled more words than the sighted, indicating a better memory overall, they found. Their greatest advantage, however, was the ability to remember longer word sequences according to their original order.

The blind individuals' remarkable edge in item recall resulted not from a specific advantage in remembering the first words in the list, or the most recent words. Rather, the blind showed a better memory for all of the words, regardless of where they fell. That result suggested that the key to their success may lie in representing item lists as word chains, perhaps by generating associations between adjacent items.

The researchers said they plan to further explore the underlying mental processes responsible for the differences in memory skill by using imaging techniques that measure brain activity.
-end-
The researchers include Noa Raz, Ella Striem, Golan Pundak, Tanya Orlov, and Ehud Zohary of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. This study was funded by the McDonnell Foundation grant #220020046.

Raz et al.: "Superior Serial Memory in the Blind: A Case of Cognitive Compensatory Adjustment." Publishing in Current Biology 17, 1-5, July 3, 2007. DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2007.05.060. www.current-biology.com

Cell Press

Related Memory Articles from Brightsurf:

Memory of the Venus flytrap
In a study to be published in Nature Plants, a graduate student Mr.

Memory protein
When UC Santa Barbara materials scientist Omar Saleh and graduate student Ian Morgan sought to understand the mechanical behaviors of disordered proteins in the lab, they expected that after being stretched, one particular model protein would snap back instantaneously, like a rubber band.

Previously claimed memory boosting font 'Sans Forgetica' does not actually boost memory
It was previously claimed that the font Sans Forgetica could enhance people's memory for information, however researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have found after carrying out numerous experiments that the font does not enhance memory.

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.

VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.

The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.

How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.

A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.

Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.

Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.

Read More: Memory News and Memory Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.