News / Health

Blind Use Visual Parts of Brain to Improve Other Senses

Their sense of touch and sound exceeds people who can see

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Art Chimes

A new study helps explain why blind people seem to have advanced perception of sound and touch.
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 functions.

"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 Rauschecker.

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.

"So what we're hoping to do is build this device that would transform, basically, visual information into auditory information, and then tap this amazing reservoir of the blind brain to process sounds and tactile information."

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

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid