A study finds that people who are born blind have heightened sense of hearing, smell and touch, suggesting that their brain “rewires” itself in the absence of visual information to boost other senses.
According to Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers, the brains of those, who are born blind make new connections in the absence of visual information, resulting in enhanced, compensatory abilities such as a heightened sense of hearing, smell and touch, as well as cognitive functions.
The findings, published online today in PLOS One, with early blindness, the structural and functional connectivity changes, including evidence of enhanced connections, sending information back and forth between areas of the brain that they did not observe in the normally sighted group.
“Our results demonstrate that the structural and functional neuroplastic brain changes occur as a result of early ocular blindness and may be more widespread than initially thought,” said lead author Corinna M. Bauer from Harvard Medical School in the US.
“We observed significant changes not only in the occipital cortex, where vision is processed, but also in the areas implicated in memory, language processing and sensory motor functions,” Bauer added.
These connections appear to be unique in those with profound blindness suggesting that the brain “rewires” itself in the absence of visual information to boost other senses.
This is possible through the process of neuroplasticity, or the ability of our brains to naturally adapt to our experiences.
The team used MRI multimodal brain imaging techniques (specifically, diffusion-based and resting state imaging) to reveal these changes in a group of 12 participants with early blindness — those born with or who have acquired profound blindness prior to the age of three.
They then compared the scans to a group of 16 normally sighted participants —all the participants were of the same age range.
The researchers explained that understanding of brain rewiring connections will lead to more effective rehabilitation efforts that will enable blind individuals to better compensate for the absence of visual information.