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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 469750, 7 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/469750
Research Article

Enhanced Chemosensory Detection of Negative Emotions in Congenital Blindness

1BrainLab, Department of Neuroscience & Pharmacology, Panum Institute, Faculty of Health & Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark
2Laboratory of Neuropsychiatry, Psychiatric Centre Copenhagen, 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark
3School of Optometry, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada H3T 1P1
4Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen, 1958 Frederiksberg, Denmark

Received 17 December 2014; Revised 7 March 2015; Accepted 9 March 2015

Academic Editor: Lin Xu

Copyright © 2015 Katrine D. Iversen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

It is generally acknowledged that congenitally blind individuals develop superior sensory abilities in order to compensate for their lack of vision. Substantial research has been done on somatosensory and auditory sensory information processing of the blind. However, relatively little information is available about compensatory plasticity in the olfactory domain. Although previous studies indicate that blind individuals have superior olfactory abilities, no studies so far have investigated their sense of smell in relation to social and affective communication. The current study compares congenitally blind and normal sighted individuals in their ability to discriminate and identify emotions from body odours. A group of 14 congenitally blind and 14 age- and sex-matched sighted control subjects participated in the study. We compared participants’ abilities to detect and identify by smelling sweat from donors who had been watching excerpts from emotional movies showing amusement, fear, disgust, or sexual arousal. Our results show that congenitally blind subjects outperformed sighted controls in identifying fear from male donors. In addition, there was a strong tendency that blind individuals were also better in detecting disgust. Our findings reveal that congenitally blind individuals are better at identifying ecologically important emotions and provide new insights into the mechanisms of social and affective communication in blindness.