60-Second Science

Deaf Cats Have Enhanced Vision

Recent research explains how the deaf can have extraordinary sight. Christie Nicholson reports

Is it an old wives tale or can deaf people actually see better? Scientists have long thought that the structure of our brain is fixed. For instance, from birth the auditory cortex will receive only sound or the visual cortex will receive only visual input.

But in the last decade neuroscientists have overthrown this idea in favor of a more malleable brain.  

New research published this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience supports that view. It helps explain why those who are congenitally deaf may have extraordinary sight.

Since the auditory cortex sits there, at birth, waiting for auditory inputs that never come, it starts receiving visual stimuli instead—in cats anyway. And the neural real estate devoted to vision increases.

Researchers compared congenitally deaf cats to hearing cats, and found that deaf cats have enhanced peripheral vision and motion detection.

They confirmed that the part of the auditory cortex that picks up peripheral sound switches to peripheral vision.   

With the deaf it’s especially good to have increased peripheral vision. If you cannot hear a car approaching from the side, it'd be advantageous to actually see it. 

—Christie Nicholson

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