Blind people have brain map for 'visual' observations too

May 17, 2017

Is what you're looking at an object, a face, or a tree? When processing visual input, our brain uses different areas to recognize faces, body parts, scenes, and objects. Scientists at KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium, have now shown that people who were born blind use a 'brain map' with a very similar layout to distinguish between these same categories.

Our brain only needs a split second to determine what we're seeing. The area in our brain that can categorize these visual observations so quickly is the so-called ventral-temporal cortex, the visual brain. Like a map, this region is divided into smaller regions, each of which recognizes a particular category of observations -- faces, body parts, scenes, and objects.

Scientists have long wondered whether we're born with this map, or whether its development relies on the visual input that we receive.

To answer this question, researchers from the KU Leuven Laboratory for Biological Psychology conducted an experiment with people who were born blind -- some of them even without eyeballs -- and have therefore never processed any visual information.

They asked the blind participants to listen to sounds from four categories: laughing, kissing, and lip smacking for faces; hand clapping and footsteps for body parts; forest and beach sounds for scenes; and a clock, washing machine, and car for objects. Meanwhile, a scanner measured the activity in their visual brain.

"We found that blind individuals also use the map in the visual brain," Professor Hans Op de Beeck from the KU Leuven Laboratory of Biological Psychology explains. "Their visual brain responds in a different way to each category. This means that blind people, too, use this part of the brain to differentiate between categories, even though they've never had any visual input. And the layout of their map is largely the same as that of sighted people. This means that visual experience is not required to develop category selectivity in the visual brain."

But these findings also raise new questions. For one thing, sounds are very different from visual input such as images and videos, so what exactly is being processed in blind people's visual brain? Further research will have to show.
-end-


KU Leuven

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.