The effect of vertical and horizontal symmetry on memory for tactile patterns in late blind individuals

Zaira Cattaneo, Tomaso Vecchi, Micaela Fantino, Andrew M. Herbert, Lotfi B. Merabet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual stimuli that exhibit vertical symmetry are easier to remember than stimuli symmetric along other axes, an advantage that extends to the haptic modality as well. Critically, the vertical symmetry memory advantage has not been found in early blind individuals, despite their overall superior memory, as compared with sighted individuals, and the presence of an overall advantage for identifying symmetric over asymmetric patterns. The absence of the vertical axis memory advantage in the early blind may depend on their total lack of visual experience or on the effect of prolonged visual deprivation. To disentangle this issue, in this study, we measured the ability of late blind individuals to remember tactile spatial patterns that were either vertically or horizontally symmetric or asymmetric. Late blind participants showed better memory performance for symmetric patterns. An additional advantage for the vertical axis of symmetry over the horizontal one was reported, but only for patterns presented in the frontal plane. In the horizontal plane, no difference was observed between vertical and horizontal symmetric patterns, due to the latter being recalled particularly well. These results are discussed in terms of the influence of the spatial reference frame adopted during exploration. Overall, our data suggest that prior visual experience is sufficient to drive the vertical symmetry memory advantage, at least when an external reference frame based on geocentric cues (i. e., gravity) is adopted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-382
Number of pages8
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Haptic
  • Late blind
  • Reference frame
  • Spatial memory
  • Symmetry
  • Tactile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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