Spatial navigation by congenitally blind individuals

Victor R. Schinazi, Tyler Thrash, Daniel Robert Chebat

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

136 Scopus citations


Spatial navigation in the absence of vision has been investigated from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. These different approaches have progressed our understanding of spatial knowledge acquisition by blind individuals, including their abilities, strategies, and corresponding mental representations. In this review, we propose a framework for investigating differences in spatial knowledge acquisition by blind and sighted people consisting of three longitudinal models (i.e., convergent, cumulative, and persistent). Recent advances in neuroscience and technological devices have provided novel insights into the different neural mechanisms underlying spatial navigation by blind and sighted people and the potential for functional reorganization. Despite these advances, there is still a lack of consensus regarding the extent to which locomotion and wayfinding depend on amodal spatial representations. This challenge largely stems from methodological limitations such as heterogeneity in the blind population and terminological ambiguity related to the concept of cognitive maps. Coupled with an over-reliance on potential technological solutions, the field has diffused into theoretical and applied branches that do not always communicate. Here, we review research on navigation by congenitally blind individuals with an emphasis on behavioral and neuroscientific evidence, as well as the potential of technological assistance. Throughout the article, we emphasize the need to disentangle strategy choice and performance when discussing the navigation abilities of the blind population. WIREs Cogn Sci 2016, 7:37-58. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1375 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-58
Number of pages22
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016


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