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Our Plastic Brains

photography by chris robinson

New findings by York researchers indicate that people with early vision loss exhibit a larger volume in the auditory parts of the brain, as well as evidence of cross-modal plasticity, compared to those with typical sight. (Cross-modal plasticity is defined as the adaptive reorganization of the brain’s neurons to integrate the function of two or more sensory systems.)

The study was led by PhD student Stefania Moro. Along with Professor Jennifer Steeves and PhD candidate Larissa McKetton, she looked for evidence of the brain’s multi­sensory plasticity in people with only one eye.

The team studied a unique group of patients who had early visual deprivation in order to examine how the brain ­develops after the loss of an eye. The patients in the study had cancer of the retina that was diagnosed between birth and the first few years of life.

“The study allowed us to look at how changes in sensory input to the brain during development affects the maturation of the sensory structures of the brain,” says Steeves, a professor of psychology and biology. “We previously ­studied auditory function in those with vision loss and found that it’s good or sometimes better than expected in the brain hemisphere that supports language and other auditory functions.”

The researchers found that those patients who had more plasticity in their visual system also had more plasticity in their auditory system.

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