People who are born deaf process the sense of touch differently than people who are born with normal hearing, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The finding reveals how the early loss of a sense— in this case hearing—affects brain development. It adds to a growing list of discoveries that confirm the impact of experiences and outside influences in molding the developing brain, according to an NIH press release.

The researchers, Christina M. Karns, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate in the Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon, Eugene, and her colleagues, show that deaf people use the auditory cortex to process touch stimuli and visual stimuli to a much greater degree than occurs in hearing people, according to the press release.

The finding suggests that since the developing auditory cortex of profoundly deaf people is not exposed to sound stimuli, it adapts and takes on additional sensory processing tasks.

“This research shows how the brain is capable of rewiring in dramatic ways,” said James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. “This will be of great interest to other researchers who are studying multisensory processing in the brain.”

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