by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
If you’re like me and can’t hear much, I’m sure you’ll agree that it would be nice to have “eyes in the backs of our heads” to help compensate for our lack of hearing. God didn’t choose to give us this extra pair of eyes, but guess what? The latest research reveals that we (people who are born deaf or with severe hearing losses) have better peripheral vision than our hearing counterparts.
According to researchers from the University of Sheffield in the UK, people who are born deaf or have an onset of deafness (hearing loss) within the first years of life develop the ability to capture more peripheral visual information than the retinas of hearing adults. In fact, researchers were surprised to learn that the retinal neurons in people born with major hearing losses appear to be distributed differently around the retina to enable them to capture more peripheral visual information.
Furthermore, they also found an enlarged neuroretinal rim area in the optic nerve, which shows that deaf/hard of hearing people have more neurons transmitting visual information than do hearing people. (1)
It was previously known that deaf and hard of hearing people had better peripheral vision, but the researchers thought this was because the visual areas of our brains developed more (one sense compensating for the lack in another sense), rather than because of actual physical changes in our eyes. (No doubt, there are changes in our brains too, because we do rely on our vision so much.)
I’ve known most of my life that I had better peripheral vision than those around me. I have used this peripheral vision time after time to notice the first hints of movement that would indicate that someone or something was close behind me. This made it difficult for people to sneak up behind me without me knowing it.
So, although we don’t have eyes in the backs of our heads, current research has proved that we can indeed see further around the sides of our heads than can hearing people. Dr Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research at RNID—Action on Hearing loss, explained: “The better peripheral vision experienced by people who are deaf, in comparison to those who hear, has significant benefits for their everyday lives—including the ability to quickly spot hazards at the boundaries of their view.” (2)
If you are interested, you can read the complete research article here.
(1) Retina in Deaf Allows for Better Vision than in Those Without Hearing Loss. 2011. Hearing Review.