[Art_beyond_sight_theory_and_research] Blind Use Visual Parts of Brain to Improve Other Senses

fnugg at online.no fnugg at online.no
Mon Oct 11 16:16:51 UTC 2010

  Article and audio report from Voice of America
*Blind* Use Visual Parts of Brain to Improve Other Senses 
Blind Use Visual Parts of Brain to Improve Other Senses
Their sense of touch and sound exceeds people who can see

A new study helps explain why blind people seem to have advanced 
perception of sound and touch.
People who have been blind from birth use visual parts of their brain to 
hone their sense of sound and touch, according to new research. These 
keen senses could be used to help the blind better navigate their world, 
according to Georgetown University professor Josef Rauschecker.

The new study has added another piece to the puzzle as scientists learn 
more about how the brains of blind people work.

Years ago, scientists began to learn that certain parts of the brain 
were dedicated to certain purposes. One section was in charge of 
breathing; another dealt with the sense of smell. Then came the 
realization that the brain was changeable - or "plastic" - and could 
sometimes reorganize itself when conditions required.

Rauschecker has been studying the question: Could that account for the 
idea that blind people compensate for their vision loss by improving 
their other senses?

"Just think of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, so many," he says. "Andrea 
Bocelli, if you prefer classical music."

In previous research, Rauschecker and other scientists have found that 
in blind people, the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes 
sight, can be used to process sound and touch. But that visual cortex is 
itself divided into discrete modules that perform different visual 

"Now, the question is: do blind people have that same or similar 
functional organization, that these modules actually stay put and just 
get re-dedicated to touch and hearing? And the answer is yes," says 

To come up with that answer, the researchers used a functional MRI 
scanner to visualize brain activity as blind people in the study 
experienced various tactile and audible sensations. The scientists could 
see what part of the brain was being used to process the sensory inputs. 
For example, when stereo sounds were used to simulate a 
three-dimensional space, the brain's spatial module was activated, as it 
would be in a sighted person.

Rauschecker says this study and earlier research has enabled 
collaborators to build a prototype device to process images taken by a 
camera into sensations that could be used by a blind person wearing it.

Joseph Rauschecker and colleagues describe their work in the journal Neuron.

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