Late- but not early-onset blindness impairs the development of audio-haptic multisensory integration

Meike Scheller, Michael Proulx, Michelle De Haan, Annegret Dahlmann-Noor, Karin Petrini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Integrating different senses to reduce sensory uncertainty and increase perceptual precision can have an important compensatory function for individuals with visual impairment and blindness. However, how visual impairment and blindness impact the development of optimal multisensory integration in the remaining senses is currently unknown. Here we first examined how audio-haptic integration develops and changes across the life span in 92 sighted (blindfolded) individuals between 7 and 70 years of age. We used a child-friendly task in which participants had to discriminate different object sizes by touching them and/or listening to them. We assessed whether audio-haptic performance resulted in a reduction of perceptual uncertainty compared to auditory-only and haptic-only performance as predicted by maximum-likelihood estimation model. We then compared how this ability develops in 28 children and adults with different levels of visual experience, focussing on low-vision individuals and blind individuals that lost their sight at different ages during development. Our results show that in sighted individuals, adult-like audio-haptic integration develops around 13–15 years of age, and remains stable until late adulthood. While early-blind individuals, even at the youngest ages, integrate audio-haptic information in an optimal fashion, late-blind individuals do not. Optimal integration in low-vision individuals follows a similar developmental trajectory as that of sighted individuals. These findings demonstrate that visual experience is not necessary for optimal audio-haptic integration to emerge, but that consistency of sensory information across development is key for the functional outcome of optimal multisensory integration.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13001
JournalDevelopmental Science
Early online date7 Jun 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jun 2020

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