Touch and Braille

It is known that tactile acuity (the ability to discriminate fine details by touch) declines with age in people with normal vision. In 2008, Gordon and colleagues published a paper showing that tactile acuity, measured with newly designed tactile acuity charts, is retained into old age by blind people. An open question has been whether this preserved tactile acuity in the blind would also be observed in normally sighted people who have lifelong experience with focused touch. In a 2019 publication, we described measures of tactile acuity of young and old pianists to see if they would also exhibit preserved tactile acuity into old age. The answer is Yes. The older pianists had better tactile acuity than age-matched controls. It is likely that a lifetime of attention to fingerings, dynamics and reliance on touch while sight reading contributes to preserved tactile acuity in pianists. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that lifelong experience with focused touch acts to preserve tactile acuity into old age for both blind and sighted subjects.

Braille is a tactile code for representing written language. We used a braille version of the MNREAD test to compare braille reading speed in blind subjects with print reading speed in sighted subjects. Average braille reading speed was about half of the average print reading speed, but the fastest braille readers exceeded the speed of slower print readers.


Selected Publications

Legge, G.E., Granquist, C., Lubet, A., Gage, R. & Xiong, Y.-Z. (2019). Preserved tactile acuity in older pianists. Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, 81(8), 2619-2625. (article) (PDF)

Legge, G.E., Madison, C., Vaughn, B.N., Cheong, A.M.Y. & Miller, J.C. (2008). Retention of high tactile acuity throughout the lifespan in blindness. Perception and Psychophysics, 70(8),1471-1488. (article) (PMC) (PDF)

Legge, G.E., Madison, C. & Mansfield, J.S. (1999). Measuring Braille reading speed with the MNREAD test. Visual Impairment Research1(3), 131-145. (article) (PDF)