How Blindness Boosts Memory

Blind People May Become Particularly Good at Remembering Order

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 21, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

June 21, 2007 -- Blindness may improve memory by practice and necessity, according to an Israeli study published today.

"We speculate that this may be a classical case of 'practice makes perfect,'" write the researchers, who included Ehud Zohary, PhD, of the neurobiology department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Zohary's team studied 19 people who were born blind and 19 people with sight.

Participants listened to a list of 20 words read aloud. Then they were quizzed on the word list, including the order of words on the list.

In a series of quizzes, the congenitally blind participants consistently outscored the sighted participants.

The blind participants were best at what the researchers call serial memory, which is recalling long strings of words in the correct order from the word list.

Zohary's team confirmed that the blind and sighted participants were equally intelligent.

The researchers argue that blindness spurs people to remember the order of things so that they can distinguish between similar objects that only differ visually.

For instance, the researchers note that when searching for a particular flavor of yogurt on a shelf filled with similarly sized containers, a blind person might remember that the flavor they want is the third container from the left.

Such attention to order and sequence may help memory in general, according to Zohary's team

The study appears in the advance online edition of Current Biology.