Although often considered a non-dominant sense for spatial perception, chemosensory perception can be used to localize the source of an event and potentially help us navigate through our environment. Would blind people who lack the dominant spatial sense -vision- develop enhanced spatial chemosensation or, alternatively, suffer from the lack of visual calibration on spatial chemosensory perception? To investigate this question, we tested odorant localization abilities across nostrils in blind people compared to sighted controls, and if the time of vision loss onset modulates those abilities. We observed that congenitally blind individuals (10 subjects) outperformed sighted (20 subjects) and late-blind subjects (10 subjects) in a birhinal localization task using mixed olfactory-trigeminal stimuli. This advantage in congenitally blind people was selective to olfactory localization but not observed for odorant detection or identification. We therefore showed that congenital blindness but not blindness acquired late in life is linked to enhanced localization of chemosensory stimuli across nostrils, most probably of the trigeminal component. In addition to previous studies highlighting enhanced localization abilities in auditory and tactile modalities, our current results extend such enhanced abilities to chemosensory localization.
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References

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