Does visual experience influence proprioception? A comparison of passive arm matching between blind and sighted participants.


  • Abi Chebel Najib
  • Gaunet Florence
  • Chavet Pascale
  • Assaiante Christine
  • Bourdin Christophe
  • Sarlegna F R

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In humans, body configuration can be estimated from multiple senses such as vision and proprioception, the sense of body parts’ position and movement based on mechanoreceptors in muscles, tendons, skin and joints. Vision has been suggested to calibrate proprioception, an idea which mostly stems from results obtained with voluntary matching methods. However, matching an unseen voluntary movement can rely on proprioceptive afferences as well as efferent signals. Here we tested the hypothesis that vision calibrates proprioception by determining whether congenital blindness impairs proprioceptive perception in a passive matching task. Given that proprioception is known to be lateralized in healthy individuals, both limbs were tested to determine whether the left-arm advantage in proprioception may be driven by visual experience. To do so, 8 congenitally-blind and 8 matched sighted participants volunteered in an ipsilateral passive matching task to assess upper-limb proprioceptive perception at the elbow and wrist joints of both right and left arms. All participants were right-handed adults. Results support and extend the view that proprioceptive precision is better at the left arm in sighted individuals. In contrast, we found that for congenitally-blind individuals, proprioception was similar in both limbs, and similar to the right arm proprioception of sighted individuals. This suggests that proprioception is not lateralized in congenitally-blind individuals because the lack of visual experience prevents the improvement of left arm proprioception. Our findings also support the view that the visual sense contributes to the calibration of the proprioceptive sense, and that vision can help improving the precision of proprioception.

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