Researchers reveal how visually impaired sense their heartbeats more than sighted ones
Washington, US: According to a study, those who are blind or visually challenged may feel their own heartbeat more accurately than the sighted people.
The study was published in the journal, 'Journal of Experimental Psychology General'.
Without measuring their pulse or touching their bodies, 36 blind and equal numbers of sighted people were asked to count their own heartbeats. Using a pulse oximeter, the researchers simultaneously captured the subjects' actual heartbeats. To determine how well the individuals could feel their own heartbeats, they then compared the reported and recorded statistics.
The analysis showed that the blind participants were superior at sensing their heartbeats than sighted participants. The blind group had an average accuracy of 0.78 while the sighted group had an accuracy of 0.63 on average, according to a scale where 1.0 represented a perfect score.
"The blind participants were much better at counting their own heartbeats than the sighted participants in our study and in several previous studies," said Dominika Radziun, PhD student at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, added, "It gives us important information about the brain's plasticity and how the loss of one sense can enhance others, in this case the ability to feel what happens inside your own body."
According to the researchers, this ability to sense heartbeats may provide an advantage when it comes to emotional processing. Prior studies have linked the degree of interoceptive accuracy, that is the ability to sense the internal state of the body, to how well people perceive emotions in themselves and others.
"We know that heart signals and emotions are closely interlinked; for example our hearts beat faster when we experience fear. It is possible that blind individuals' enhanced sensitivity to signals from their own heart also impacts their emotional experiences," said Dominika Radziun.
The research group will now continue to study how blind individuals perceive their own bodies, examining if structural changes in the visual cortex, the brain region normally responsible for vision, may explain the increased ability to sense signals from the inside of the body.