Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
If conceptual retrieval is partially based on the simulation of sensorimotor experience, people with a different sensorimotor experience, such as congenitally blind people, should retrieve concepts in a different way. However, studies investigating the neural basis of several conceptual domains (e.g., actions, objects, places) have shown a very limited impact of early visual deprivation. We approached this problem by investigating brain regions that encode the perceptual similarity of action and color concepts evoked by spoken words in sighted and congenitally blind people. At first, and in line with previous findings, a contrast between action and color concepts (independently of their perceptual similarity) revealed similar activations in sighted and blind people for action concepts and partially different activations for color concepts, but outside visual areas. On the other hand, adaptation analyses based on subjective ratings of perceptual similarity showed compelling differences across groups. Perceptually similar colors and actions induced adaptation in the posterior occipital cortex of sighted people only, overlapping with regions known to represent low-level visual features of those perceptual domains. Early-blind people instead showed a stronger adaptation for perceptually similar concepts in temporal regions, arguably indexing higher reliance on a lexical-semantic code to represent perceptual knowledge. Overall, our results show that visual deprivation does changes the neural bases of conceptual retrieval, but mostly at specific levels of representation supporting perceptual similarity discrimination, reconciling apparently contrasting findings in the field.