Deaf People and Sensory Compensation

Ayesha Azeem ‘23

Figure 1. People who suffer from deafness often lose much of the sensory signals necessary to understand relevant information about other people; sensory compensation helps them overcome this disadvantage.

Through neuroimaging, previous studies have shown that sensory deficits in one modality can cause amplified performance in sensory processing of other modalities in a phenomenon known as sensory compensation. This is often seen in people with extreme sensory deficits, such as people who suffer from deafness, those who experience a loss of auditory cues. However, not much is known about whether sensory compensation can provide an advantage involving intact senses in comparison to fully-functional people. Michal Pieniak and others led a research study in which they investigated deaf people’s self perception about sensory compensation; with an experimental group of 74 deaf people and a control group of 100 fully-functional people, the researchers sought to determine whether deaf people would overestimate their sensory performance when compared to hearing people. 

The researchers matched the experimental group to the control group in terms of age and sex. The deaf subjects had their hearing loss confirmed by two auditory tests – speech audiometry and the triplet test – then were asked to self-reflect and evaluate their sensory sensitivity in the other 4 modalities, using a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (much less sensitive) to 7 (much more sensitive). The researchers also recorded the deaf subjects’ onset of deafness and the type of hearing aid they used. 

The study determined that deafness amplifies positive self-reflection on one’s sensory performance across the four intact modalities. This was enhanced further by deaf subjects who did not use a hearing device, especially for senses of vision and smell. These results indicate that deaf people believe in sensory compensation and use it to compare themselves to those who have fully-functional hearing. This also may be due to self-enhancement mechanisms, since deaf people may consider sensory performance in intact modalities to be highly important due to the loss of auditory cues. 

This study is important in that it provides insight into how deaf people perceive themselves, which should be considered when implementing educational programs and therapy for that special population. Further studies should be investigated to determine whether there is a relationship between positive self-perception and mental distress in deaf individuals. 

Works Cited:

[1] M. Pieniak, et al., Self-rated sensory performance in profoundly deaf individuals. Do deaf people share the conviction about sensory compensation? Journal of  Sensory Studies 35 (2020). doi: 10.1111/joss.12572.

[2] Image retrieved from:


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