Our ability to learn rests on the brain’s capacity to change. People who are blind since birth have to rely more strongly on the intact sense, hearing and touch, to interact with their environment. As a consequence, blind people often show superior abilities when it comes to discriminating sounds and touch. For example, they can distinguish different voices more easily. The blind brain shows large changes due to the lack of vision: the part of the brain that responds to visual input in sighted people is now activated by the processing of sounds and touch, which is called “crossmodal plasticity”. Not only blind people, but also sighted people sometimes show crossmodal activation of the visual cortex while perceiving sounds or touch. As many environmental events are multisensory in nature, e.g. we simultaneously see and hear a person, it is thought that all related sensory representations are activated in distributed networks across the brain – even if only one sensory input is received. The proposed project investigates, using the latest advances in ultra-high field imaging, the detailed underlying mechanisms of crossmodal activation of visual brain regions during voice perception in blind and sighted humans in order to understand how the brain adapts to experience.
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