Behavioral manifestations of brain plasticity in blind and low-vision individuals
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Tactile sensitivity enhancement (TSE) observed in blind people is probably a result of intensified tactile training. Although many researchers consider TSE in the blind to be an example of use-dependent plasticity, it is unclear whether the effects of training (Braille reading) are specific, i.e. restricted to the trained function and hand, or if they are more general. To examine this issue further, blind Braille readers, low-vision subjects (Braille readers and non-Braille readers) and sighted controls were tested in two tasks: a texture task resembling the Braille system and a dissimilar groove orientation task. Braille readers, both blind and those with low vision, performed better in both tasks than low-vision non-Braille readers or sighted controls. However, the difference was significant only for the blind (more experienced) Braille readers. In the groove orientation task, the positive influence of training was detectable irrespective of the hand used in the test, but in the coarse texture task this influence was limited to the hand trained in Braille. Thus, it appears that tactile training is of significance in TSE but its effects are, to a large extent, task- and hand-specific.
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K.Jednorog, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Laboratory of Psychophysiology, 3 Pasteur St., 02-093 Warsaw, Poland