You may be familiar with the Marvel superhero, Daredevil; blinded as a child, he finds that his other senses have become so heightened that he can fight criminals without vision and never skips beat.
This obviously fictitious character may not be so off the mark as we’ve previously thought. Sure, someone blind won’t be fighting criminals in hand-to-hand combat anytime soon, but the idea of your other senses being heightened after losing one is not so fictitious anymore.
A new study shows that people who are deaf have a heightened sense of sight because they communicate through sign language. According to the study, the deaf participants have better peripheral vision than those with full hearing!
So if you’d like to sharpen your vision and learn a new and increasingly useful skill, try sign language!
About the Study
The purpose of the study was to evaluate the visual capabilities of deaf people who can sign, versus hearing people who can sign and hearing people who cannot. Are our other senses truly heightened when one doesn’t work?
A group of researchers from the UK enlisted the help of 17 people who have been deaf since birth. There were eight hearing people fluent in British Sign Language (BSL) and 18 hearing people who didn’t speak sign language at all.
The participants were set in front of a computer where they completed a series of tests where their visual acuity, visual range, and reaction times were examined.
The result: deaf people had sharper reaction times than hearing people. Not only that, but their peripheral vision expanded up to 85 degrees near the edge of the vision. The average person’s peripheral will extend to 60 or 70 degrees.
These results may be shocking to some unfamiliar with the idea of sense compensation. But, Charlotte Codina of the University of Sheffield and leader of the study says she and her colleagues were unsurprised by the results.
Sense compensation is a well-established concept among the scientific community even though it may seem like science fiction to the rest of us. Our bodies are capable of amazing things. Picking up the slack when one sense is down is just one way that our body adapts to survive.
However, there was one surprising outcome that not even Codina had seen coming. Deaf people who were fluent in sign language lead as the most visually perceptive group, but the group who came in second were those who could hear and were fluent in sign language. Those who knew sign language had better reaction times than those who didn’t know the language.
Deaf people have visual abilities that hearing people do not. Their instinct to adapt forces their eyes to become stronger.
American Sign Language
Don’t think that only deaf people who have been signing since childhood can benefit from this language! It’s never too late to learn a new language. Sign language is one of the easiest languages to learn thanks to the internet. Visual aids are available on any sign language website.
The study used British Sign Language since it is the most common sign language in the country. In the United States, we use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is also used in Anglophone parts of Canada, West Africa and Southern Asia. It is very closely related to French Sign Language (FSL).
ASL and its variations is a combination of facial movements, torso movements and hand gestures. Some words (mostly borrowed words from other languages or slang) are spelled out with letters, while other words like “about” have a specific gesture assigned. Although, the gesture for the word “about” can vary from community to community.
How Can ASL Enhance Your Vision?
Learning sign language may be easier than learning some languages, but it isn’t an easy feat. When you learn ASL, you need to train yourself to read quick gestures and hand movements, otherwise you’ll miss the whole conversation!
Learning sign language can be considered a type of vision exercise. Your ears will be out of commission, so all your energy can go into focusing on what’s being signed. Your eyes will get stronger and stronger as you learn to rapidly understand signing.
If you’ve ever seen an interpreter signing on television, in movies, or on YouTube, you’ll know that they speak crazy fast with their whole body. You need to pay attention to the interpreter’s whole body and not just their hands.
It will be very difficult at first. Your eyes are like muscles that need to be worked. If you go to the gym for the first time in months, your muscles are going to need to start off slow and work their way back to where they were.
The same goes for your eyes. Learning ASL will be like working your eyes in ways that you aren’t used to. It will take some time to get used to it, but the results will come. You just need to stick with it, otherwise your eyes will never get stronger.
In learning sign language, you’ll be giving your brain and eyes a workout. You’re never too old to learn sign language. If you’re looking to learn a new skill and exercise your vision, find a learning program online that fits you best.
As we learned from this study, losing one sense is hardly a disability. Our other senses become heightened to compensate for whatever sense we may be missing. In the case of deaf people, their vision is sharper than the average person because they have most likely been using sign language since they were children.
Sign language can help us to communicate better with sign language communities and will help with our vision. You’re really getting a two-for-one. You’ll be providing your eyes with the necessary exercise for them to stay on the ball and you’ll be learning a whole new language.
There are about 70 million people worldwide who speak sign language as a first language. Think of all the new friends you can make with your new skill!