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J Exp Psychol Gen. 1992 Jun;121(2):210-21.

Visual experience, visual field size, and the development of nonvisual sensitivity to the spatial structure of outdoor neighborhoods explored by walking.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 37203.


When places are explored without vision, observers go from temporally sequenced, circuitous inputs available along walks to knowledge of spatial structure (i.e., straight-line distances and directions characterizing the simultaneous arrangement of the objects passed along the way). Studies show that a life history of vision helps develop nonvisual sensitivity, but they are unspecific on the formative experiences or the underlying processes. This study compared judgments of straight-line distances and directions among landmarks in a familiar area of town by partially sighted persons who varied in types and ages of visual impairment. Those with early childhood loss of broad-field vision and those blind from birth performed significantly worse than those with early or late acuity loss and those with late field loss. Broad-field visual experience facilitates perceptual development by providing a basis for proprioceptive and efferent information from locomotion against distances and directions relative to the surrounding environment. Differences in the perception of walking, in turn, cause the observed differences in sensitivity to spatial structure.

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