Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Teaching the blind to read and recognize objects with sounds

Date:
November 7, 2012
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
Areas of the brain in blind people can learn to process visual input through the use of sound, even after years or perhaps even lifelong blindness, according to new research. The findings challenge the common belief that if the visual cortex of the brain is deprived of information in early life, it may never develop functional specialization.

This is an example of one image from each of the visual categories used in the structured SSD training (geometric shapes, Hebrew letters, textures, body postures, everyday objects, houses, and faces) is demonstrated, along with its corresponding transformation to sound via the vOICe SSD (two repetitions of each 2-s-long soundscape).
Credit: Striem-Amit et al., Neuron

Areas of the brain in blind people can learn to process visual input through the use of sound, even after years or perhaps even lifelong blindness, according to new research reported in the November issue of the Cell Press journal Neuron. The findings challenge the common belief that if the visual cortex of the brain is deprived of information in early life, it may never develop functional specialization.

Related Articles


"The adult brain is more flexible that we thought," says senior author Prof.. Amir Amedi, of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University Medical School.

In their studies, Prof. Amedi and his colleagues taught congenitally blind adults to use sensory substitution devices (SSDs), which are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For example, when a person uses a visual-to-auditory SSD, images from a video camera are converted into "soundscapes" that represent the images, allowing the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera (i.e. "seeing" with sounds).

After being taught how to use the SSDs, blind people could use the devices to learn to read, with sounds representing visual images of letters. This skill involved a region of the brain called the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA), which in sighted people is activated by seeing and reading letters. After only tens of hours of training, blind people's VWFA also showed more activation for letters than for any of the other visual categories tested. The findings suggest that, at least in the blind, the tuning of VWFA to reading does not depend on vision. Instead, the VWFA may be selective to the type of information or computation rather than to the type of sensory input.

Blind people could also use SSDs to recognize soundscapes of visually complex categories such as faces, houses, and body parts. The results suggest that distinguishing meaningful shapes does not require vision, even though the brain activity that's needed to do so takes place in the part of the brain normally associated with vision in sighted individuals.

The findings also give hope that reintroduced input into the visual centers of the blind brain could potentially restore complex vision, and that SSDs might be useful for visual rehabilitation. "SSDs might help blind or visually-impaired individuals learn to process complex images, as done in this study, or they might be used as sensory interpreters that provide high-resolution supportive synchronous input to a visual signal arriving from an external device," says Professor Amedi.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ella Striem-Amit, Laurent Cohen, Stanislas Dehaene, Amir Amedi. Reading with Sounds: Sensory Substitution Selectively Activates the Visual Word Form Area in the Blind. Neuron, 2012; 76 (3): 640 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.08.026

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "Teaching the blind to read and recognize objects with sounds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121107122741.htm>.
Cell Press. (2012, November 7). Teaching the blind to read and recognize objects with sounds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121107122741.htm
Cell Press. "Teaching the blind to read and recognize objects with sounds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121107122741.htm (accessed April 18, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers found a spike in oxytocin occurs in both humans and dogs when they gaze into each other&apos;s eyes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers who analyzed data from over 300,000 kids and their mothers say they&apos;ve found a link between gestational diabetes and autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Video Messages Help Reassure Dementia Patients

Video Messages Help Reassure Dementia Patients

AP (Apr. 17, 2015) Family members are prerecording messages as part of a unique pilot program at the Hebrew Home in New York. The videos are trying to help victims of Alzheimer&apos;s disease and other forms of dementia break through the morning fog of forgetfulness. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Boy or Girl? Intersex Awareness Is on the Rise

Boy or Girl? Intersex Awareness Is on the Rise

AP (Apr. 17, 2015) At least 1 in 5,000 U.S. babies are born each year with intersex conditions _ ambiguous genitals because of genetic glitches or hormone problems. Secrecy and surgery are common. But some doctors and activists are trying to change things. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Activating the 'mind's Eye': Alternative Vision Using Sounds

Nov. 7, 2012 Common wisdom has it that if the visual cortex in the brain is deprived of visual information in early infanthood, it may never develop properly its functional specialization, making sight ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins