Gori, M., Sandini, G., Martinoli, C. & Burr, D. (2010).

Poor haptic orientation discrimination in nonsighted children may reflect disruption of cross-sensory calibration,Curr Biol, 3 (20), 223-225.

A long-standing question, going back at least 300 years to Berkeley’s famous essay, is how sensory systems become calibrated with physical reality. We recently showed [1] that children younger than 8-10 years do not integrate visual and haptic information optimally, but that one or the other sense prevails: touch for size and vision for orientation discrimination. The sensory dominance may reflect crossmodal calibration of vision and touch, where the more accurate sense calibrates the other. This hypothesis leads to a clear prediction: that lack of clear vision at an early age should affect calibration of haptic orientation discrimination. We therefore measured size and orientation haptic discrimination thresholds in 17 congenitally visually impaired children (aged 5-19). Haptic orientation thresholds were greatly impaired compared with age-matched controls, whereas haptic size thresholds were at least as good, and often better. One child with a late-acquired visual impairment stood out with excellent orientation discrimination. The results provide strong support for our crossmodal calibration hypothesis.