VSL:SCIENCE // Why blind people have a better sense of direction

According to a new paper by researchers at the University of Montreal, blind people have the best navigation skills: Born of necessity, their sense of direction produces dramatic changes in the structure of their brains.

The scientists gave subjects a “wayfinding task” that measured how long it took to learn the layouts of new and complex environments, and discovered that blind subjects were quicker on the uptake — and less likely to get lost. Next, they used an MRI machine to scan the subjects’ brains and found that blind people had significantly larger hippocampi (the area is crucial for the formation of spatial memories). The changes were present in people who had been blind from birth and in people who’d lost their sight much later in their lives, suggesting that the hippocampus starts compensating (and growing) as soon as the lights go out.

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