Cognitive Neuroscience Talks

Seeing by ear: auditory perception abilities and brain plasticity following complete vision loss

Recent imaging research has demonstrated the capacity of the human brain to modify its organisation in response to vision loss. For example, the occipital cortex in blind individuals may become activated during the performance of auditory and tactile tasks. In this talk, I present data from my PhD research which examined the behavioural and neural consequences of complete vision loss. It focused mainly on auditory perception abilities, although tactile function was also investigated. Individuals blinded at different phases in development (congenital, early-onset, late-onset) were compared. The various experiments (using behavioural, MRI, and fMRI methods) were designed to address a number of inter-related questions, including: 1. Do blind individuals demonstrate superior abilities in non-deprived sensory modalities? 2. To what extent do blind individuals show occipital activation during auditory processing? 3. Do blind individuals have enlarged structural and functional representation in the primary auditory cortex? 4. How does brain plasticity relate to behavioural abilities in blind individuals? How does this relationship vary with the age of onset of blindness? The findings provide insights into the malleability of the human brain across the life-span. They may have potential implications for the development of effective rehabilitation strategies.