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Deaf Brain Processes Touch Differently

Update Date: Jul 11, 2012 03:49 PM EDT
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According to the National Institutes of Health, "people who are born deaf process the sense of touch differently than people who are born with normal hearing."

"This research shows how the brain is capable of rewiring in dramatic ways," said James F. Battey, Jr., director of the NIDCD. "This will be of great interest to other researchers who are studying multisensory processing in the brain."

The study is published in the July 11 online issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

According to a release, "there are several ways the finding may help deaf people. For example, if touch and vision interact more in the deaf, touch could be used to help deaf students learn math or reading. The finding also has the potential to help clinicians improve the quality of hearing after cochlear implants, especially among congenitally deaf children who are implanted after the ages of 3 or 4. These children, who have lacked auditory input since birth, may struggle with comprehension and speech because their auditory cortex has taken on the processing of other senses, such as touch and vision. These changes may make it more challenging for the auditory cortex to recover auditory processing function after cochlear implantation. Being able to measure how much the auditory cortex has been taken over by other sensory processing could offer doctors insights into the kinds of intervention programs that would help the brain retrain and devote more capacity to auditory processing."

"We designed this study because we thought that touch and vision might have stronger interactions in the auditory cortices of deaf people," said Christina Karns, research associate in the Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon. "As it turns out, the primary auditory cortex in people who are profoundly deaf focuses on touch, even more than vision, in our experiment."

Researchers developed a unique apparatus that could be worn like headphones while subjects were in MRI scanner.

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