Sign language and peripheral vision

Study reveals quicker reaction times and stronger peripheral vision among deaf adults

09 Feb 2017 by Selina Powell

Lady signing languageLearning sign language not only enhances communication skills, but may also boost your chances of fielding a catch on the cricket pitch.

Research from the University of Sheffield’s Academic Unit of Ophthalmology and Orthoptics revealed that reaction times in the peripheral vision were enhanced in both deaf adults and hearing adults who learned a visual-spatial language, such as British Sign Language (BSL).

Lead author, Dr Charlotte Cudina, said she was surprised by the quicker response times of BSL interpreters, who did not necessarily know sign language from childhood.

“This shows that becoming a BSL interpreter is not only an interesting job, but it also has benefits such as making you more alert to changes in your peripheral field that could help when driving, playing sport or refereeing a football match,” she highlighted.

Dr Cudina emphasised that it was important for eye health professionals to be aware of the visual field advantages in deaf adults and BSL users, to prevent delays in detecting diseases that primarily affected the visual field.

Learning a visual-spatial language, such as sign language, used the visual system differently to an auditory language and improved the sensitivity of peripheral vision, Dr Cudina explained.

The research also found deaf adults had significantly better peripheral vision and reaction times than both hearing adults and BSL users.

“We found that deaf adults have faster reaction times around the whole of the visual field, extending as far as 85 degrees peripherally near the edge of vision,” Dr Cudina explained.

“Our study shows that deaf people have exceptional visual abilities that hearing adults do not. These findings support the common belief in sensory compensation,” she added.

BSL is the most common form of sign language in the UK and is used by around 145,000 people.

Researchers also plan on studying the effect of sign language on children’s vision, and whether being educated in a signed or auditory environment is better for a deaf child’s vision.

This varied at present depending on where a child lived and what school they attended, Dr Cudina highlighted.

Image credit: Quinn Dombrowski

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