Looking Without Seeing: Two Puzzling Findings

Document Type

Poster Session

Publication Date


Published In

Journal Of Vision


We have observed that congenitally blind individuals sometimes orient their head toward a manual workspace when the manual task becomes challenging. To document this behavior we videotaped six congenitally blind participants while they attempted to string beads of varying difficulty. Two participants oriented their heads dramatically, in a manner that resembled actual looking. Three others showed partial orienting responses at task initiation, or head re-orienting when the task became difficult. One participant showed no evidence of head orienting toward the beading task; she likewise lacked social orienting during conversation. Debriefing interviews found that none of our participants were aware of having oriented their head toward the beads. It appears likely that head orienting serves as an embodied component of spatial attention. To test whether head orienting would benefit beading performance of sighted individuals even when vision was blocked, we administered a controlled experiment in which blindfolded participants repeated a set sequence of 10 beads three times. Half the participants were required to orient their head down toward the workspace for the first twenty beads and then to orient straight ahead for the final ten. The other half were required to orient away at first and then toward the workspace for the final ten. Beading times for each bead were extracted from videotapes; they varied greatly by bead type. Beads of medium difficulty (70% success within one minute) were selected for analysis. To our surprise, sighted participants were faster at beading when their blindfolded face was oriented away from the workspace. This pattern was statistically evident between-subjects during the first sequence of ten beads and even more pronounced during the last sequence, following the switch in head orientation. The consequences of visionless orienting may differ depending on experience.


Vision Sciences Society Ninth Annual Meeting

Conference Dates

May 8-13, 2009

Conference Location

Naples, FL