Cognitive compensations for blindness in children: An investigation using odour naming

Claire E. Wakefield, Judi Homewood*, Alan J. Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    40 Citations (Scopus)


    Historically, blindness has been associated with compensation for the loss of vision by the other senses. However, research to date has focused on perceptual compensations, largely ignoring possible cognitive compensations. We explored the notion that cognitive skills of blind children may facilitate performance in apparently perceptual tasks, by investigating the cognitive factors related to naming a familiar odour. Eighty-three children participated in olfactory and cognitive tasks (thirty-two early-blind, five late-blind, fourteen low-vision, and thirty-two sighted). In the olfactory tasks, the early-blind children performed significantly better than the sighted children on the odour-naming task but not on the odour-sensitivity task. From the cognitive tasks, scores on a nonvisualisable word-pairs task and a sound-word-pairs task were significantly higher for early-blind children and were highly correlated with odour-naming score. The early-blind children outperformed the sighted controls on a task of directed attention. The groups did not differ on memory for a story or for visualisable word pairs. The results suggest that blind children enjoy an advantage in tasks that assess nonvisual memory for paired associates and directed attention, and that superiority on these tasks facilitates performance in the odour-naming task. Other data suggest that sighted children rely on visualisation as a strategy to aid their performance on the cognitive tasks, and are disadvantaged when these strategies cannot be utilised.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)429-442
    Number of pages14
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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