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Proceedings Paper

Drawing in the blind and the sighted as a probe of cortical reorganization
Author(s): Lora T. Likova
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Paper Abstract

In contrast to other arts, such as music, there is a very little neuroimaging research on visual art and in particular - on drawing. Drawing - from artistic to technical - involves diverse aspects of spatial cognition, precise sensorimotor planning and control as well as a rich set of higher cognitive functions. A new method for learning the drawing skill in the blind that we have developed, and the technological advances of a multisensory MR-compatible drawing system, allowed us to run for the first time a comparative fMRI study on drawing in the blind and the sighted. In each population, we identified widely distributed cortical networks, extending from the occipital and temporal cortices, through the parietal to the frontal lobe. This is the first neuroimaging study of drawing in blind novices, as well as the first study on the learning to draw in either population. We sought to determine the cortical reorganization taking place as a result of learning to draw, despite the lack of visual input to the brains of the blind. Remarkably, we found massive recruitment of the visual cortex on learning to draw, although our subjects had no previous experience, but only a short training with our new drawing method. This finding implies a rapid, learning-based plasticity mechanism. We further proposed that the functional level of the brain reorganization in the blind may still differ from that in the sighted even in areas that overlap between the two populations, such as in the visual cortex. We tested this idea in the framework of saccadic suppression. A methodological innovation allowed us to estimate the retinotopic regions locations in the blind brain. Although the visual cortex of both groups was greatly recruited, only the sighted experienced dramatic suppression in hMT+ and V1, while there was no sign of an analogous process in the blind. This finding has important implications and suggests that the recruitment of the visual cortex in the blind does not assure a full functional parallel.

Paper Details

Date Published: 17 February 2010
PDF: 14 pages
Proc. SPIE 7527, Human Vision and Electronic Imaging XV, 752708 (17 February 2010); doi: 10.1117/12.849116
Show Author Affiliations
Lora T. Likova, The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7527:
Human Vision and Electronic Imaging XV
Bernice E. Rogowitz; Thrasyvoulos N. Pappas, Editor(s)

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