Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

(See the end of this page for subscribing via email, RSS, browsing articles by subject, blog archive, APH resources, writing for Fred's Head, and disclaimers.)

Search

Loading...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Reading Braille Activates the Brain's Visual Area

A growing body of research calls into question the idea that most brain areas are tied to specific sensory inputs.

Whether reading the word "orange" in Braille or in English, the same brain area identifies it. The idea that different sensory inputs are necessarily processed in disparate regions may be obsolete.

Does a blind person reading Braille process words in the brain differently than a person who reads by sight? Mainstream neuroscience thinking implies that the answer is yes because different senses take in the information. But a recent study in Current Biology finds that the processing is the same, adding to mounting evidence that using sensory inputs as the basis for understanding the brain may paint an incomplete picture.

Researchers in Israel, Canada and France used brain imaging to observe the neural activity of eight blind subjects as they read Braille. They found that although the blind subjects were using their sense of touch, their brains showed activity in the same so-called visual region that sighted people use when they read.

The finding runs counter to the long-held belief that the functions of areas of the brain are determined by the senses that feed them information. Instead it suggests that at least some areas developed primarily to perform a specific job. “The brain will use any information it can get to achieve this task,” says lead author Amir Amedi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Although his study only dealt with reading, Amedi thinks many areas of the brain are similarly task-oriented. He points to a 2005 study in which researchers found that participants who inspected an object with either their hands or their eyes used the same brain region to ultimately identify it. “When we look at a dog or a hammer and we recognize it, we have a very specific center that is activated,” he says. “It’s the exact same for touching it.”

According to Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California not associated with the reading or touch studies, this task-based view of the brain is becoming widely accepted by cognitive neuro­scientists but almost completely ignored by their hard-neuroscience colleagues. Neuroscientists who work on the biology of the brain tend to believe that humans are driven “by how the world pokes us,” she says—in other words, sensory stimuli. They fail to see that “the hallmark of humanity is the ability to move beyond sensory inputs.”

One criticism hard neuroscientists have of this task-based view is that certain cognitive processes are simply too new for humans to have evolved a specific brain area to process them. Reading, for example, has been around for only about 5,000 years. Its invention is much too recent to have had an effect on the evolution of the human brain. So how, then, could there be a part of the brain designated for reading?

Both Immordino-Yang and Amedi agree this is an important question. Immordino-Yang sees the evidence as a testament to the brain’s ability to accommodate human inventions in the modern world. “It’s amazing how plastic our brain is,” she says. Parts of the brain are constantly being co-opted to process technological innovations. Amedi concurs: “We use the best networks that already did something most similar to this task. This is what allows us to evolve.”

Article Source:
Scientific American

No comments:

Subscribe to receive posts via email

* indicates required

Browse Articles by Subject

Follow us on Twitter

Archives

Write for us

Your input and support in the evolution of Fred's Head are invaluable! Contact us about contributing original writing or for suggestions for updating existing articles. Email us at fredshead@aph.org.

Disclaimers

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.



The products produced by the American Printing House for the Blind are instructional/teaching materials and are intended to be used by trained professionals, parents, and other adults with children who are blind and visually impaired. These materials are not intended as toys for use by children in unstructured play or in an unsupervised environment.





The information and techniques contained in Fred's Head are provided without legal consideration (free-of-charge) and are not warranted by APH to be safe or effective. All users of this service assume the risk of any injury or damage that may result from the use of the information provided.





Information in Fred's Head is not intended as a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Consult your physician before utilizing information regarding your health that may be presented on this site. Consult other professionals as appropriate for legal, financial, and related advice.





Fred's Head articles may contain links to other websites. APH is not responsible for the content of these sites.





Fred's Head articles created by APH staff are (C) copyright American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. You must request permission from APH to reprint these articles. Email fredshead@aph.org to request permission.





Any submissions to Fred's Head should be free of copyright restrictions and should be the intellectual property of the submitter. By submitting information to Fred's Head, you are granting APH permission to publish this information.





Fair Use Notice: This website may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holder(s). This site is operated on the assumption that using this information constitutes 'fair use' of said copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.





Opinions appearing in Fred's Head records are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Printing House for the Blind.