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Thinking about sight as a sense

Enoch, J. ORCID: 0000-0002-4614-6676, Jones, L. & McDonald, L. (2020). Thinking about sight as a sense. Optometry in Practice, 21(3), pp. 2-9.


Sight is often considered to be the most valuable sense. However, the way in which senses are defined, considered and researched in science and society has changed over time. Increasingly, definitions of the senses move beyond the five ‘traditional’ senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch to include functions such as balance, temperature and pain perception. Our senses also interact substantially, and while neural reorganisation in the brain can help to compensate for the loss of one sensory modality, dual or multisensory impairments are a growing issue in the ageing population.

This article reports the results of a UK-based cross-sectional online survey, where members of the public were surveyed in March–April 2016 to explore which sense they considered to be most valuable. Participants were first asked to rank the five traditional senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste) plus three other ‘non-traditional’ senses (balance, temperature and pain) in order of most valuable to least valuable. Sight was indeed ranked by participants as the most valuable sense, followed by hearing and then balance.

Overall, these findings substantiate the idea of sight being the most valuable sense among a cross-section of the UK public. This provides a further argument for promotion of eye health as a key priority for public health. However, the broader research on the senses helps to caveat and contextualise such findings. Notably, the importance of sight may be socially and culturally relative, and results could be different if the study were conducted in other contexts, for example in different countries or among people living with sensory loss. It is argued that optometrists have a key role to play in responding to anxieties regarding sight loss, dispelling stigma and fear, and promoting ways to adapt to sight loss.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © Copyright 2020. The College of Optometrists.
Subjects: R Medicine > RE Ophthalmology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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