Preserved tactile acuity in older pianists

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Abstract

A previous study from our lab demonstrated retention of high tactile acuity throughout the lifespan in blind subjects in contrast to the typical decline found for sighted subjects (Legge, Madison, Vaughn, Cheong & Miller, Percept Psychophys, 70 (8), 1471-1488, 2008). We hypothesize that preserved tactile acuity in old age is due to lifelong experience with focused attention to touch and not to blindness per se. Proficient pianists devote attention to touch – fingerings and dynamics – over years of practice. To test our hypothesis, we measured tactile acuity in groups of ten young (mean age 24.5 years) and 11 old (mean age 64.7 years) normally sighted pianists and compared their results to the blind and sighted subjects in our 2008 study. The pianists, like the subjects in 2008, were tested on two tactile-acuity charts requiring active touch, one composed of embossed Landolt rings and the other composed of dot patterns similar to braille. For both tests, the pianists performed more like the blind subjects than the sighted subjects from our 2008 study. For the ring chart, there was no significant difference in tactile acuity between the young and old pianists and no significant difference between the pianists and the blind subjects. For the dot chart, the pianists showed an age-related decline in tactile acuity, but not as severe as the sighted subjects from 2008. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that lifelong experience with focused attention to touch acts to preserve tactile acuity into old age for both blind and sighted subjects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2619-2625
Number of pages7
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Volume81
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant EY002934 and a grant from the Helen Keller Foundation.

Funding Information:
This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant EY002934 and a grant from the Helen Keller Foundation. Open Practices Statement The data for all experiments are available at the Data Repository of the University of Minnesota (10.13020/fj2x-vk94). None of the data or materials for the experiment reported here was preregistered.

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Blind
  • Pianist
  • Tactile acuity

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