Deaf People Can ‘Hear’ Music
Scans show that deaf people ‘hear’ vibrations in the part of the brain where sounds are processed.
The world of music is not closed if you suffer hearing loss. Many deaf people still attend concerts and even become performers. How can this be? Researchers at the University of Washington have uncovered an important clue.
They exposed ten deaf students and eleven with normal hearing to non-audible vibrations on the hand, whilst scanning their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging, a technique that reveals brain activity. Both groups showed activity in the part of the brain that processes vibrations. But only the deaf students also showed activity in the auditory cortex, where sounds are usually processed. This suggests they can ‘hear’ vibrations.
People with hearing loss can be helped to enjoy musical concerts more by giving them balloons which help them ‘feel’ vibrations from the instruments with their fingers, in much the same way as the students in this study were exposed to vibrations. These new findings suggest how this might work. It also means that surgeons should always try to preserve the auditory cortex if they have to do brain surgery on a deaf person – because it obviously still has an important function.
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