Do blind people hear better?

by Harry Shelton
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We have all heard at one time or another that those individuals who lack one sense have their other senses heightened. This is one of those things that we have all heard but none of us are clear on the source and most of us are not sure if it is actually true. Even blind people differ in their opinions on whether they have increased usage of other senses. While I wish I could give you the answer as a simple yes or no, it turns out that it is a little more complicated than that. Let’s dive in.

Let’s start off with the superhero view. The superhero view suggests that if you endure a terrible accident and you lose your sight you will then be granted incredible abilities in other areas. This is, unsurprisingly not true. In reality, if an adult (I will explain why I say adult here, later) loses their sight they will not have any increase in abilities of other senses. Over time these blind individuals will come to rely on their hearing more and more and will improve their hearing as a result. This is not strange though.

If any of us really focus on hearing we would all do a better result. We all know that while playing a video game and your parent calls you for dinner, you can sometimes fail to hear that. Your other senses are taking up all your focus. If you want to nail a parallel park, you will sometimes turn off the radio, you want to focus that sense (or hear if you crash into the car behind you). This is normal for both people with the ability to see and those who are blind. Focus more on hearing and your use of this sense will improve. People who have been blind for a long time are often able to tell the distance of certain objects by how they sound because they are used to doing that, those who can see usually do this through sight.

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However, some studies have shown that if you are born blind or if you lose your ability to see at a young age the mind is still forming and it will take some of the resources that people use for the function of sight and will use them for another sense. This has resulted in people who were blind from an early age being able to determine the direction of a sound on a horizontal plane better with their hearing than if a person with the ability to hear closes their eyes. However, in an interesting twist, these same blind people have been shown to be actually worse at determining the direction of sound on the vertical plane. We are yet to fully understand why this is but it has now been shown many times.

So if the question is do blind people have better hearing than those who are able to see, the answer is yes. They do have a better hearing but in most cases, this is simply down to the repetition of use and reliance on this sense. Because they need to use their hearing more and rely on it for more things, it is a more sharpened tool for them. However, in the case of blind people who had this sense missing since birth or an early age, there are some differences in brain function that support physically better hearing as well. These benefits have been shown to be quite limited.

In some cases blind people have shown remarkable hearing abilities and while these are incredible to see they should not be taken for granted. It is far more likely that these people are just highly intelligent and are using the senses they have to an incredible ability. 

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