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Surprising Science

The Dynamic Brain of Blind People

In the brains of people blind from birth, structures used in sight are still put to work—but for a different purpose. Rather than processing visual information, they appear to handle language.

New studies suggest that the brain does not have predetermined areas of functionality. If one part of the organ is not in use, it can be repurposed to serve another function: “Researchers have used brain imaging to study plasticity resulting from natural sensory deprivation in people. They’ve found that the visual cortices of blind people become active as they read Braille. It wasn’t clear, however, whether this was a function of Braille’s spatial demands, which overlap with the spatial aspects of sight, or a radical repurposing of supposedly specialized areas.”


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