Sign language users have better reaction times and peripheral vision

  • Hearing adults who use British Sign Language (BSL) have better reaction times in their peripheral vision
  • Deaf adults have the best peripheral vision and reaction times comparing to hearing adults and BSL users
  • Study provides evidence that losing one of your five senses enhances the others

People who use British Sign Language (BSL) have better reaction times in their peripheral vision, a new study from the University of Sheffield has found.

The findings, revealed by scientists from the University’s Academic Unit of Ophthalmology and Orthoptics, show that hearing adults learning a visual-spatial language such as BSL has a positive impact on visual field response – something which is highly beneficial in many sports and when driving.

Dr Charlotte Codina, lead author of the study and Lecturer in Orthoptics at the University of Sheffield, said: “We were surprised by the quicker response times of BSL interpreters, who haven’t necessarily known sign language since childhood, but have improved their peripheral visual sensitivity in learning this visual language and using it daily.

“This shows that becoming a BSL interpreter is not only an interesting job, but it also has benefits such as making you more alert to changes in your peripheral field that could help when driving, playing sport or refereeing a football match for example.”

The pioneering research also found deaf adults have significantly better peripheral vision and reaction times than both hearing adults and BSL users, providing scientific evidence to support the common belief that losing one of your five senses, such as hearing, can enhance others like sight or smell.

“We found that deaf adults have faster reaction times around the whole of the visual field, extending as far as 85 degrees peripherally near the edge of vision,” said Dr Codina.

“Our study shows that deaf people have exceptional visual abilities that hearing adults do not.

“These findings support the common belief in sensory compensation.”

BSL is the most common form of sign language in the UK and is used by around 145,000 people. It has its own grammatical structure and syntax and as a language it is not dependent nor is it strongly related to spoken English.

Results of the study are published today (Monday 6 February 2017) in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Additional information

The Unit of Ophthalmology and Orthoptics
The University of Sheffield’s Academic Unit of Ophthalmology and Orthoptics is a vibrant teaching and research unit within the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health which is dedicated to nurturing students’ talents and upholding the core values of the NHS. The Unit supports the highest standards of excellence and professionalism through education and research and achieved 98 per cent satisfaction for teaching in the National Students Survey.

For more information please visit Orthoptics

British Sign Language
For more information about BSL please visit British Sign

The University of Sheffield
With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2016 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859
a.l.pullan@sheffield.ac.uk