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Study: Brain is a 'self-building toolkit'

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Boston (UPI) Feb 28, 2011
U.S. researchers say evidence is mounting that regions of the human brain can take over functions they were not genetically designed to perform.

Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say a study has shown that in individuals born blind, parts of the visual cortex -- not receiving any visual sensory stimuli -- are recruited for language processing, contradicting the assumption that such processing can only occur in highly specialized brain regions that are genetically programmed for language tasks.

"Your brain is not a prepackaged kind of thing. It doesn't develop along a fixed trajectory; rather, it's a self-building toolkit," says Marina Bedny of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. "The building process is profoundly influenced by the experiences you have during your development."

While functions like language, hearing and vision have distinct processing centers in the brain, studies are beginning to suggest there's some flexibility in assigning brain functions.

Scanning the brains of blind subjects as they performed a sentence comprehension task, researchers found their visual brain regions were sensitive to sentence structure and word meanings in the same way as classic language regions of the brain are, reported Monday.

"The idea that these brain regions could go from vision to language is just crazy," Bedny says. "It suggests that the intrinsic function of a brain area is constrained only loosely, and that experience can have really a big impact on the function of a piece of brain tissue."

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