For adults in the United Kingdom, sight is the most valuable sense, a cross-sectional web-based survey found.
Jamie Enoch, MSc, and colleagues collected responses from March 2016 to April 2016 from 250 U.K. adults aged 22 to 80 years. Participants were asked to rank sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, balance, temperature and pain in order of most to least valuable. Of the participants, 88% ranked sight as the most valuable sense (mean rating 7.8 out of 8; 95% CI, 7.6-7.9), with hearing ranked second (mean rating 6.2; 95% CI, 6.1-6.4) and balance third (mean rating 4.9; 95% CI, 2.7-5.1).
Enoch spoke with Healio/OSN about the study and its implications. – by Eamon Dreisbach
Question: What prompted this study?
Answer: Scientists and philosophers are increasingly questioning the widely held notion that we have just five senses. Balance, temperature perception and pain perception, for example, are increasingly seen as senses as well. That is what prompted us to broaden the topic to include more than just the five traditional senses.
Q: Were the findings unexpected ?
A: We did not have a formal hypothesis, but we did expect that vision would rank first, or at least highly, because it is a claim that is often made in the U.K. An unpublished 2005 survey conducted by the Royal National Institute of Blind People similarly found that 88% of people rated sight as their most valuable sense.
Q: What are the clinical implications of this study for ophthalmologists?
A: When prompted to think about their senses, people do really value their sight. Even so, that is not always reflected in real-world behavior. We know that people do not necessarily seek out preventive eye care. And maybe that implies that we need new awareness-raising campaigns and more investment in public health approaches to better engage people with eye health services.
Q: Were there any results from this study that surprised you?
A: We were surprised that balance came out as No. 3, above touch, taste and smell. Also, we did not find many differences based on age. We thought that the preferences would change with age, but they changed only marginally. Respondents older than 60 years ranked the ability to feel pain slightly higher than smell, but that was the only difference.
Q: What are the next steps after this study?
A: We could consider the public’s views on different kinds of multisensory loss, or replicating the study in other populations would be interesting because the value placed on the different senses may vary across societies and cultures.
Enoch J, et al. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2019;doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2019.3537.
Disclosure: Enoch reports no relevant financial disclosures.