Understanding perception and aesthetic appeal of arts and environmental objects, what is appreciated, liked, or preferred, and why, is of prime importance for improving the functional capacity of the blind and visually impaired and the ergonomic design for their environment, which however so far, has been examined only in sighted individuals. This paper provides a general overview of the first experimental study of tactile aesthetics as a function of visual experience and level of visual deprivation, using both behavioral and brain imaging techniques. We investigated how blind people perceive 3D tactile objects, how they characterize them, and whether the tactile perception, and tactile shape preference (liking or disliking) and tactile aesthetic appreciation (judging tactile qualities of an object, such as pleasantness, comfortableness etc.) of 3D tactile objects can be affected by the level of visual experience. The study employed innovative behavioral measures, such as new forms of aesthetic preference-appreciation and perceptual discrimination questionnaires, in combination with advanced functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) techniques, and compared congenitally blind, late-onset blind and blindfolded (sighted) participants. Behavioral results demonstrated that both blind and blindfolded-sighted participants assessed curved or rounded 3D tactile objects as significantly more pleasing than sharp 3D tactile objects, and symmetric 3D tactile objects as significantly more pleasing than asymmetric 3D tactile objects. However, as compared to the sighted, blind people showed better skills in tactile discrimination as demonstrated by accuracy and speed of discrimination. Functional MRI results demonstrated that there was a large overlap and characteristic differences in the aesthetic appreciation brain networks in the blind and the sighted. As demonstrated both populations commonly recruited the somatosensory and motor areas of the brain, but with stronger activations in the blind as compared to the sighted. Secondly, sighted people recruited more frontal regions whereas blind people, in particular, the congenitally blind, paradoxically recruited more 'visual' areas of the brain. These differences were more pronounced between the sighted and the congenitally blind rather than between the sighted and the late-onset blind, indicating the key influence of the onset time of visual deprivation. Understanding of the underlying brain mechanisms should have a wide range of important implications for a generalized cross-sensory theory and practice in the rapidly evolving field of neuroaesthetics, as well as for 'cutting-edge' rehabilitation technologies for the blind and the visually impaired.
A.K.M. Rezaul Karim, Lora T. Likova, "Haptic aesthetics in the blind: A behavioral and fMRI investigation" in Proc. IS&T Int’l. Symp. on Electronic Imaging: Human Vision and Electronic Imaging, 2018, pp 1 - 10, https://doi.org/10.2352/ISSN.2470-1173.2018.14.HVEI-532