New research from the University of Oregon suggests how deaf people use the parts of their brains that hearing people use to hear.
The research was published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience. U of O research associate Christina Karns wanted to know what happens to the auditory cortex in deaf people.
"What we do is put this kind of crazy apparatus, which is a little headset that has some tubes that puff little gentle airpuffs onto the skin, with a little fiber-optic cable that flashes a little light," Karns explains.
Karns found that the deaf participants were particularly sensitive to simultaneous puffs of air and flashes of light. And an MRI showed they processed those stimuli in the auditory cortex.
The findings could have implications for cochlear implants that send audio information into that part of the brain.
Karns says the fact that the implants don't tend to work as well in adults who have been deaf for a long time might now have an explanation: the auditory cortex is busy helping to process the senses of vision and touch.