How the Senses Affect Our Brains—and Vice-versa
What happens in the human brain when a person loses one of their senses? Does the brain reorganize itself to compensate? And if so, how? Questions like these are at the heart of research by Dr. Franco Lepore, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience.
Lepore is examining how vision, hearing, and touch interact in the human brain. He is also exploring the cognitive processes that are involved when we see and respond to emotional expressions. Lepore and his research team are studying these processes in people who have lost their vision or hearing. They are looking at what happens both behaviourally and cognitively, through the use of brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and electroencephalography (EEG).
By studying individuals with vision loss, Lepore hopes to understand how the absence of vision affects their other senses. So far, results indicate that the other senses supra-perform. Lepore believes this may be due to visual areas of the brain being colonized by the other senses. In other words, “more brain leads to better performance.”
Similarly, in deaf persons, vision seems to colonize the brain’s auditory cortex, but with comparatively little supra-performance. Lepore is investigating why this is. He is also studying people who have visual cortical lesions in order to identify strategies for compensation and rehabilitation.
Lepore’s research will uncover important information about how our brains interpret the sensory world. It may also lead to novel ideas about how we can improve rehabilitation strategies for persons with sight or hearing loss.