The idea that a group of sign language users are equipped with better vision mightn't come as a surprise, after all the idea that losing one sense can enhance another is a fairly common school of thought. But what if we told you that among that group were a collection of adults whose hearing is perfectly intact? This is the finding reached by a team of researchers in the UK, suggesting that taking up a visual-spatial language can give visual sensitivity a boost, something that might come in handy when playing sports of driving a car.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield conducted a study designed to explore the differences in peripheral vision of various groups of people. This meant testing the visual reaction times of 17 deaf people, eight users of British Sign Language (BSL) who could hear, and 18 hearing adults with no experience of sign language. A total of 224 LED lights were briefly illuminated in a random sequence in the fields of vision of the participants, and they used a joystick to indicate that they had seen the light and identify the general region in which it was positioned.
As expected, the deaf adults came out on top, exhibiting significantly superior reaction times to the BSL interpreters. But what the researchers didn't expect was the performance of the hearing BSL users, who were in turn significantly faster than the hearing non-BSL users.
"We were surprised by the quicker response times of BSL interpreters, who haven't necessarily known sign language since childhood, but have improved their peripheral visual sensitivity in learning this visual language and using it daily," said Dr Charlotte Codina. "This shows that becoming a BSL interpreter is not only an interesting job, but it also has benefits such as making you more alert to changes in your peripheral field that could help when driving, playing sport or refereeing a football match for example."
The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.