A framework to account for the effects of visual loss on human auditory abilities

Andrew J. Kolarik, Shahina Pardhan, Brian C. J. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Until recently, a commonly held view was that blindness resulted in enhanced auditory abilities, underpinned by the beneficial effects of cross-modal neuroplasticity. This viewpoint has been challenged by studies showing that blindness results in poorer performance for some auditory spatial tasks. It is now clear that visual loss does not result in a general increase or decrease in all auditory abilities. Although several hypotheses have been proposed to explain why certain auditory abilities are enhanced while others are degraded, these are often limited to a specific subset of tasks. A comprehensive explanation encompassing auditory abilities assessed in fully blind and partially sighted populations and spanning spatial and non-spatial cognition has not so far been proposed. The current article proposes a framework comprising a set of nine principles that can be used to predict whether auditory abilities are enhanced or degraded. The validity of these principles is assessed by comparing their predictions with a wide range of empirical evidence concerning the effects of visual loss on spatial and non-spatial auditory abilities. Developmental findings and the effects of early- versus late-onset visual loss are discussed. Ways of improving auditory abilities for individuals with visual loss and reducing auditory spatial deficits are summarized. A new Perceptual Restructuring Hypothesis is proposed within the framework, positing that the auditory system is restructured to provide the most accurate information possible given the loss of the visual signal and utilizing available cortical resources, resulting in different auditory abilities getting better or worse according to the nine principles. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913–935
Number of pages23
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number5
Early online date8 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • auditory
  • blindness
  • cross-modal
  • spatial neural plasticity

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