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Representation of space in the sighted and the blind: the size of the place makes a difference

Lo studio dell’ateneo ha analizzato l’uso dei verbi di movimento utilizzati da parlanti italiani vedenti e non vedenti

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lucia_tamponi.jpgSpatial representation by sighted or blind people seems to be influenced, at least partly, by the size of the place: it is more similar for wide spaces while it differs for smaller rooms.

This is the conclusion of a study published by Lucia Tamponi, research fellow at the Department of Philology, Literature and Linguistics of the University of Pisa, in “Working papers in Linguistics and Oriental Studies”.

“Over the past few decades,” explains Lucia Tamponi, “neuroscientists, linguists and cognitive psychologists have focussed on studying the spatial representations of congenitally blind people and the spatial language related to them with a view to understanding – through the analysis and comparison of the verbal behaviour of sighted and congenitally blind individuals – the degree to which visual deprivation affects the representation of concepts and the mental representation of the surrounding space.”

The study examined the descriptions of their bedrooms and of a city route offered by 48 native Italian-speaking volunteers (26 sighted and 22 congenitally blind). The analysis showed that when talking about their bedrooms, the blind used twice as many motion verbs as the sighted. This seems to indicate that they preferred a subjective, sequential spatial representation, which was reflected in the need to move around a room based on the precise position of various furniture items or objects experienced by touch. Sighted people, on the other hand, preferred a holistic and panoramic spatial representation strategy, which they achieved without resorting to movement. The description of larger spaces – in this case the city route – tended to be similar, as the sighted used only slightly more verbs than the visually impaired. The tactile experience in this case cannot in fact be compared to that in a smaller-scale environment.

“Although partial, these results confirm how the semantic and conceptual representation of the congenitally blind is strongly dependent on linguistic information, in addition to sensory input,” Tamponi concludes. Indeed, the two groups of subjects tested tend to adopt different spatial representations for small-scale environments (such as the bedroom), because in this case the conceptual representation for the blind depends mainly on sensory and motor information.


  • 19 September 2023

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