The newly sighted fail to match seen with felt

Journal name:
Nature Neuroscience
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Published online
Corrected online

Would a blind subject, on regaining sight, be able to immediately visually recognize an object previously known only by touch? We addressed this question, first formulated by Molyneux three centuries ago, by working with treatable, congenitally blind individuals. We tested their ability to visually match an object to a haptically sensed sample after sight restoration. We found a lack of immediate transfer, but such cross-modal mappings developed rapidly.

At a glance


  1. Stimuli and testing procedure.
    Figure 1: Stimuli and testing procedure.

    (a) Four examples from the set of 20 shape pairs used in our experiments. (b) The match-to-sample procedure. The within-modality tactile match to tactile sample task assesses haptic capability and task understanding. The visual match to visual sample task provides a convenient way to assess whether subjects' form vision is sufficient for visually discriminating between test objects. The tactile match to visual sample task represents the critical test of intermodal transfer. T, touch; V, vision; s, sample; d, distractor.

  2. Intra- and inter-modal matching results.
    Figure 2: Intra- and inter-modal matching results.

    (a) Within-modality and cross-modality match to sample performance of five newly sighted individuals 2 d after sight onset. Newly sighted subjects exhibited excellent performance on the touch-to-touch (T-T) and vision-to-vision (V-V) tasks, but were near chance on the transfer (T-V) task. For each of the touch-to-touch and vision-to-vision sessions, P < 0.003 (two-tailed binomial test). For each of the transfer sessions, P > 0.25. “Average”, average performance across subjects. *P < 0.05. (b) Visual match to tactile sample performance of three subjects across two post-operative assessments. Subjects exhibited significant improvement in cross-modal transfer a short duration after the first assessment. For each of the first transfer sessions, P > 0.25 (two-tailed binomial test). For each of the follow-up sessions shown above, P < 0.015.

Change history

Corrected online 04 May 2011
In the version of this article initially published, author Beatrice de Gelder’s name was misspelled. The error has been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the article.


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Author information


  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Richard Held,
    • Yuri Ostrovsky &
    • Pawan Sinha
  2. Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands.

    • Beatrice de Gelder
  3. Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India.

    • Tapan Gandhi
  4. Dr. Shroff's Charity Eye Hospital, New Delhi, India.

    • Suma Ganesh &
    • Umang Mathur


R.H., B.d.G., P.S. and Y.O. designed the study. S.G. and U.M. performed the surgical procedures and conducted the ophthalmic assessments. R.H., Y.O., T.G., B.d.G. and P.S. conducted the match-to-sample experiments and wrote the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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