Spatial Competence and Brain Plasticity in Congenital Blindness via Sensory Substitution Devices

Daniel Robert Chebat, Fabien C. Schneider, Maurice Ptito

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

In congenital blindness (CB), tactile, and auditory information can be reinterpreted by the brain to compensate for visual information through mechanisms of brain plasticity triggered by training. Visual deprivation does not cause a cognitive spatial deficit since blind people are able to acquire spatial knowledge about the environment. However, this spatial competence takes longer to achieve but is eventually reached through training-induced plasticity. Congenitally blind individuals can further improve their spatial skills with the extensive use of sensory substitution devices (SSDs), either visual-to-tactile or visual-to-auditory. Using a combination of functional and anatomical neuroimaging techniques, our recent work has demonstrated the impact of spatial training with both visual to tactile and visual to auditory SSDs on brain plasticity, cortical processing, and the achievement of certain forms of spatial competence. The comparison of performances between CB and sighted people using several different sensory substitution devices in perceptual and sensory-motor tasks uncovered the striking ability of the brain to rewire itself during perceptual learning and to interpret novel sensory information even during adulthood. We discuss here the implications of these findings for helping blind people in navigation tasks and to increase their accessibility to both real and virtual environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number815
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Volume14
DOIs
StatePublished - 30 Jul 2020

Keywords

  • brain plasticity
  • congenital blindness
  • multisensory
  • navigation
  • sensory substitution
  • spatial cognition
  • touch (haptic/cutaneous/tactile/kinesthesia)
  • vision

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