Spatial Language Processing in the Blind: Evidence for a Supramodal Representation and Cortical Reorganization

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Struiksma, Marijn E. and Noordzij, Matthijs L. and Neggers, Sebastiaan F.W. and Bosker, Wendy M. and Postma, Albert (2011) Spatial Language Processing in the Blind: Evidence for a Supramodal Representation and Cortical Reorganization. PloS One, 6 (9). e24253. ISSN 1932-6203

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Abstract:Neuropsychological and imaging studies have shown that the left supramarginal gyrus (SMG) is specifically involved in processing spatial terms (e.g. above, left of), which locate places and objects in the world. The current fMRI study focused on the nature and specificity of representing spatial language in the left SMG by combining behavioral and neuronal activation data in blind and sighted individuals. Data from the blind provide an elegant way to test the supramodal representation hypothesis, i.e. abstract codes representing spatial relations yielding no activation differences between blind and sighted. Indeed, the left SMG was activated during spatial language processing in both blind and sighted individuals implying a supramodal representation of spatial and other dimensional relations which does not require visual experience to develop. However, in the absence of vision functional reorganization of the visual cortex is known to take place. An important consideration with respect to our finding is the amount of functional reorganization during language processing in our blind participants. Therefore, the participants also performed a verb generation task. We observed that only in the blind occipital areas were activated during covert language generation. Additionally, in the first task there was functional reorganization observed for processing language with a high linguistic load. As the visual cortex was not specifically active for spatial contents in the first task, and no reorganization was observed in the SMG, the latter finding further supports the notion that the left SMG is the main node for a supramodal representation of verbal spatial relations.

Item Type:Article
Additional information:Open access article
Copyright:© The Authors
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Behavioural Sciences (BS)
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Link to this item:http://purl.utwente.nl/publications/78028
Official URL:http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0024253
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