‘Visual’ activity in the Blind Brain: Neural underpinnings of Echolocation in the Blind

Professor Mel Goodale PhD, FRSC, FRS
Canadian Professor of Neuroscience, Director The Brain and Mind Institute, The University of Western Ontario, Canada

http://psychology.uwo.ca/faculty/goodale/

General seminar -4 pm Thursday Feb 12, 2015
Venue: Room 217 George Singer Building

“I can hear a building over there”

Everybody has heard about echolocation in bats and dolphins. These creatures emit bursts of sounds and listen to the echoes that bounce back to detect objects in their environment. What is less well known is that people can echolocate, too. In fact, there are blind people who have learned to make clicks with their mouth and tongue – and to use the returning echoes from those clicks to sense their surroundings. Some of these people are so adept at echolocation that they can use this skill to go mountain biking, play basketball, or navigate through unfamiliar buildings. In this talk, we will learn about several of these echolocators – some of whom train other blind people to use this amazing skill.

Using neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI), we have also shown that the echoes activate brain regions in the blind echolocators that would normally support vision in the sighted brain. In contrast, the brain areas that process auditory information are not particularly interested in these faint echoes. This work is shedding new light on just how plastic the human brain really is.

For more information about echolocation, see:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0020162

http://www.uwo.ca/bmi/news/bmi_news/bat_man.html