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Neuropsychologia. 2012 Jul;50(8):2056-67. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.05.006. Epub 2012 May 12.

The superiority in voice processing of the blind arises from neural plasticity at sensory processing stages.

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Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology, University of Hamburg, 20146 Hamburg, Germany.


Blind people rely much more on voices compared to sighted individuals when identifying other people. Previous research has suggested a faster processing of auditory input in blind individuals than sighted controls and an enhanced activation of temporal cortical regions during voice processing. The present study used event-related potentials (ERPs) to single out the sub-processes of auditory person identification that change and allow for superior voice processing after congenital blindness. A priming paradigm was employed in which two successive voices (S1 and S2) of either the same (50% of the trials) or different actors were presented. Congenitally blind and matched sighted participants made an old-young decision on the S2. During the pre-experimental familiarization with the stimuli, congenitally blind individuals showed faster learning rates than sighted controls. Reaction times were shorter in person-congruent trials than in person-incongruent trials in both groups. ERPs to S2 stimuli in person-incongruent as compared to person-congruent trials were significantly enhanced at early processing stages (100-160 ms) in congenitally blind participants only. A later negative ERP effect (>200 ms) was found in both groups. The scalp topographies of the experimental effects were characterized by a central and parietal distribution in the sighted but a more posterior distribution in the congenitally blind. These results provide evidence for an improvement of early voice processing stages and a reorganization of the person identification system as a neural correlate of compensatory behavioral improvements following congenital blindness.

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