Effects of Congenital Blindness on Touch

A number of studies have confirmed the functional participation of visual areas during somatosensory tasks in early blind individuals. By using PET, researchers compared tactile discrimination in early blind Braille readers and control subjects. Blind subjects revealed the activation ofvisual cortical areas, whereas these regions were deactivated in controls. The functional relevance of visual areas in tactile discrimination was further established in a transcra-nial magnetic stimulation experiment. Transient stimulation of the occipital cortex induced errors on a tactile task in early blind subjects but had no effect on the sighted controls. It is worth noting that not all aspects of somatosensory processing recruit visual areas in blind subjects. For example, simple tactile stimuli that did not require discrimination produced little activation in the visual areas of blind subjects. This finding is in agreement with the hypothesis that different neurocognitive systems and subsystems exhibit different sensitivities to altered experiences.

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