Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
August 2019, Vol. 31, No. 8, Pages 1091-1109
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
What and How the Deaf Brain Sees
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Over the past decade, there has been an unprecedented level of interest and progress into understanding visual processing in the brain of the deaf. Specifically, when the brain is deprived of input from one sensory modality (such as hearing), it often compensates with supranormal performance in one or more of the intact sensory systems (such as vision). Recent psychophysical, functional imaging, and reversible deactivation studies have converged to define the specific visual abilities that are enhanced in the deaf, as well as the cortical loci that undergo crossmodal plasticity in the deaf and are responsible for mediating these superior visual functions. Examination of these investigations reveals that central visual functions, such as object and facial discrimination, and peripheral visual functions, such as motion detection, visual localization, visuomotor synchronization, and Vernier acuity (measured in the periphery), are specifically enhanced in the deaf, compared with hearing participants. Furthermore, the cortical loci identified to mediate these functions reside in deaf auditory cortex: BA 41, BA 42, and BA 22, in addition to the rostral area, planum temporale, Te3, and temporal voice area in humans; primary auditory cortex, anterior auditory field, dorsal zone of auditory cortex, auditory field of the anterior ectosylvian sulcus, and posterior auditory field in cats; and primary auditory cortex and anterior auditory field in both ferrets and mice. Overall, the findings from these studies show that crossmodal reorganization in auditory cortex of the deaf is responsible for the superior visual abilities of the deaf.