Does Blindness Boost Working Memory? A Natural Experiment and Cross-Cultural Study

Heiner Rindermann, A. Laura Ackermann*, Jan te Nijenhuis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Intelligence requires sufficient working-memory capacity. Traditionally, working memory was seen as a process and as a prerequisite for fluid intelligence. Working memory was assumed to be determined by maturation and health. There is a gap in the literature: It is still not fully understood to which extent and how working memory can be influenced. So this study tested how visual impairment and the extent of visual impairment are related to working memory capacity. In our study we compared N = 249 children (6–16 years) with and without visual impairment (blind, visually impaired, and sighted) in two countries (South Africa and Austria) at different development levels on their working-memory capacity and verbal comprehension. Using the WISC-IV, blind and visually impaired children showed higher working-memory capacity than sighted children (r = + 0.35, 14, and 3 IQ points, respectively). On the other hand, visually impaired children showed a weakness in verbal comprehension (r = −0.39, on average 13 IQ points lower). The pattern remained robust when SES and race-ethnicity were controlled. Our natural (quasi-)experiment shows a pattern, which is unlikely to be genetic, and so supports the view that working memory and intelligence scores can be modified.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1571
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJuly
Early online date3 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • blindness
  • cognitive ability
  • cross-cultural comparison
  • intelligence
  • modifiability
  • natural experiment
  • working-memory capacity


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