Researchers Discover Why Deaf People Have Visual Improvements

Does the brain re-wire itself to compensate for lost senses?

Some people who are blind or deaf sometimes claim their remaining senses to be enhanced. However, this is the first study to actually discover a relationship between the inability to use one sense and an enhancement of other senses.

The study, performed by researchers at The University of Western Ontario, determined a link between an increase in vision and a brain reorganization where sound is “decoded” in deaf cats. The study was published in Nature Neuroscience, an online journal.

Humans and cats are the only mammals that could be born deaf.

Studying deaf cats and cats that could hear, researchers discovered only two visual abilities can be augmented in a deaf being. Enhancements may occur in the peripheral field or in visual motion detection. Researchers discovered a parallel in that parts of the brain which would detect peripheral sound would increase peripheral vision.

Brains work to provide additional benefit if a certain sense is lost. Because of that, a deaf person may be able to see objects in their peripheral vision from much further away than a person with the ability to hear.

The researchers are working to determine how a deaf brain works differently from a brain that can hear. If brains ‘re-wire’ themselves to compensate for lost senses, does the brain function remain if a sense is to be restored?

Another conclusion researchers are trying to make is whether or not the brain function alters over time, based on the decrease of specific senses.

Additional research needs to be conducted, but the findings so far are promising.