ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (12): 2131-2146.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.02131

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The influence of blindness on auditory vocabulary recognition

FENG Jie1, XU Juan2, WU Xinchun3   

  1. 1Beijing Electronic Science and Technology Institute, Beijing 100070, China;
    2Special Education College, Beijing Union University, Beijing 100075, China;
    3Research Center of Children's Reading and Learning, Beijing Key Laboratory of Applied Experimental Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Received:2021-02-24 Online:2021-12-15 Published:2021-10-26

Abstract: Language is one of the most important human cognitive abilities. The language skills of sighted people are based on auditory and visual information. During a conversation, people with normal vision view the movements of the lips and chin during pronunciation, as well as facial expressions and body movements, etc. These visual cues play an important role in individual language acquisition and development. However, blind people lack the input of vivid visual information in the process of language acquisition. This lack of visual experience results in a series of adaptive changes in auditory vocabulary recognition.
In a review of previous research, we found that: (1) In terms of auditory vocabulary processing, blind people show specific auditory compensation effects. For example, blind people have more sensitive speech perception, better oral memory and faster vocabulary judgment. (2) In terms of semantic understanding of vocabulary, unlike sighted people, blind people tend to use non-visual features (e.g., touch, hearing, and smell) to represent and understand some vision-related words (e.g., words representing specific objects, and words representing “beauty”). In addition, blind people have weaker semantic processing and understanding of some vision-related words (such as color words) compared with people with normal vision. (3) The neurophysiological mechanisms underlying blind people’s auditory vocabulary processing cause a series of plastic changes. For example, the right occipital cortex of blind people is involved in speech processing; the left occipital cortex of blind people is involved in various speech processing tasks, such as the processing of words, and the degree of activation in the occipital cortex appears to be mainly related to semantic processing; and the connection between the prefrontal language functional areas and the visual cortex in blind people is stronger than that in sighted people.
The current study proposes that further research in this field should examine the following areas in more depth: First, when studying auditory vocabulary recognition in blind people, vocabulary processing should be classified and discussed according to the visual relevance of the vocabulary terms. For example, vocabulary terms can be divided into non-vision-related words, weakly vision-related words, and strongly vision-related words. Second, the mechanisms underlying the processing of auditory vocabulary in blind people should be investigated in comprehensive and systematic research examining multiple dimensions, such as phonetics, glyphs and semantics, as well as the interactions among them. A processing model should be developed that can reflect the characteristics of blind people’s auditory vocabulary recognition. Third, neurophysiological mechanisms underlying auditory vocabulary recognition in blind people should be studied in more depth, including: (1) the specific functions and roles, in blind people, of the language function area in the left frontal-temporal lobe, the visual cortex in the occipital lobe, and the visual word form area, during auditory vocabulary processing; (2) The differences between the semantic representation of words with different levels of visual relevance in the brains of blind people and individuals with normal vision; (3) The brain processing pathways and brain network characteristics in the whole process of auditory vocabulary recognition from speech input to semantic comprehension. Finally, in blind children, the lack of visual experience may cause greater variability and higher complexity in auditory vocabulary recognition compared with normally-sighted children. For example, in terms of vocabulary and speech processing, blind children may experience a transition from disadvantage to compensatory advantage; in terms of semantic understanding and learning of words, blind children who lack visual experience and have weak cognitive abilities may exhibit more difficulty. Researchers should focus on language acquisition and development in blind children and carry out more in-depth developmental research to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the effects of the lack of visual experience on auditory vocabulary recognition in blind people.

Key words: blind people, auditory vocabulary recognition, phonology, semantics, orthography

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