October 12, 2003.
BBC News Online.
1.5 million people in the UK have serious sight problems.
Blind people can understand speech quicker than those with full sight, according to a study.
Research carried out in Germany suggests that differences in the brains of blind people enables them to process language more quickly.
It also found that areas in the back of the brain normally devoted to sight were taken over in part by information processing cells.
The finding adds weight to the theory that loss of sight can lead to better hearing as the brain tries to compensate for the blindness.
This, to me, is a very remarkable finding
Dr Steve Hillyard, University of California Researchers at the University of Marburg in Germany studied the effects on the brains of blind and sighted people who listened to sentences where either the last word did or didn't make sense.
For instance, questions like "we sleep in a tent when we go camping" as opposed to "tomorrow Bobby will be ten years hill".
According to New Scientists magazine, they monitored the brain waves of individuals as they decided whether the sentence made sense or not.
The brain wave pattern that indicates when language is being analysed is known as the N400 signal.
In people who could see this pattern was observed about 150 milliseconds after the sentence ended.
But in blind people, it could be seen in less than half that time.
Dr Brigette Roder, from the University of Marbury who carried out the research, said: "They process language faster than sighted people."
She added that the discovery that this may be linked to the fact that the part of the brain normally associated with vision is used for processing language by blind people.
Dr Steve Hillyard, a neurologist at the University of California, in San Diego, US, said
"This, to me, is a very remarkable finding.
"I would have thought that language is such a highly over-learned skill in both sighted and blind individuals that the timing of their language processes would be similar."
© MMIII, BBC News Online.
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