Do deaf babies process visual information more slowly than hearing babies, or just spend more time on visual cues? This was one of the primary questions a new study brought to light when researching learning and developmental differences between hearing and Deaf children.
Much research has been done in the world of deaf education and learning development, but many assumptions have been made too that have yet to be verified or de-mythed. One less focused on a segment of the population in deafness in infancy. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has shed a bit of light on this underrepresented corner of the hearing research world.
Do Deaf Babies Really Interpret Visual Data More Quickly?
This particular study operated on the widely accepted premise that deaf children interpret visual signals more quickly. Researchers wanted to investigate the differences in the way deaf babies and hearing babies interpret information from the world around them. They found that deaf babies spent a significantly longer time on visual stimuli compared to hearing babies.
Researchers measured visual processing skills of participants by showing the infants a variety of objects on a screen. Typically, when a baby looks away from the object they are given, this is an indication that they are done processing the object and are no longer interested in looking at the object. According to Derek Houston, associate professor of otolaryngology at Ohio State, “Deaf infants took longer to habituate to the objects and looked away from them less than hearing infants.”
Counterintuitive Results Leave Room For Thought
Claire Monroy, post-doctorate otolaryngology fellow at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and co-author of the study said,”This is somewhat counterintuitive because a lot of people assume that deaf children compensate for their lack of hearing by being better at processing visual things, but the findings of the study show the opposite.”
The immediate conclusion one might draw from the results of this study is that deaf babies take longer to digest visual information than hearing babies, and therefore don’t learn as quickly as hearing babies. But, this may not necessarily be the correct interpretation of this study. The results could just as easily indicate that deaf babies simply spend longer on visual information because they are processing and habituating the object in a more detailed way.
The Future Of Research
What this study does confirm is the need for more research in this segment of the deaf population to ascertain exactly how deaf babies process and incorporate visual information into their world. A better understanding of infant development among the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) population may inform the future of educational environments and approaches to learning.
Future studies in infancy may focus on determining exactly why visual learning differences exist so that methods for teaching can be cultivated to fit the precise needs of deaf and HoH children to help them excel to meet their full potential.