University of Hull psychologist Dr Julie Castronovo's research with congenitally blind volunteers has revealed their enhanced skills in processing numerical information during tests.
The research, published in specialist journals, shows that during numerical tasks, the congenitally blind volunteers showed outstanding estimation skills - better than those of sighted volunteers. This contradicts previous assumptions that vision is essential to the development of numerical skills.
Information gathered from the tests could result in the introduction of new teaching methods in the future.
Blindness is known to lead to the development of 'compensatory strategies' for example using senses like hearing, movement and touch to make up for the lack of vision. The results from this research could lead to a multi-sensory approach being employed in teaching numbers to young children.
This could be done easily and at low cost, Dr Castronovo said, to help children master basic numerical skills early, building a strong foundation for maths in the future.
Dr Castronovo also believes, numerical processing might be one of the 'compensatory strategies' acquired in the absence of vision to help deal with the surrounding environment. For example, in everyday life, blind people, more than sighted people, assess the number of steps that they take to areas used as 'landmarks' on their journeys.
Dr Castronovo added: "The study opens a new perspective in numerical cognition which indicates the benefits to be gained from a multi-sensory approach. Further research into multi-sensory and multi-modal access to numerical information, and its impact on numerical skills, could lead to educational benefits in teaching mathematics to young children."
The studies were conducted with a group of congenitally blind volunteers and a group of sighted volunteers, matched in age and sex, with both groups undertaking the same numerical estimation tasks.
Dr Castronovo has already begun new research to investigate the positive impact of a multi-sensory approach being introduced in teaching numbers to young school children.