Neuro science has trudged rough terrain towards understanding how the human brain learns to recognize objects. Pawan Sinha, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 2003 launched a project to study how visual skills are acquired. The project named "Project Prakash" aims to study, identify and, treat, children who are blind from birth, in India. The case of a lady born blind was studied by the professor, appears in the journal Psychological Science in the December 2006 issue.
Dr. Sinha along with two graduate students, Yuri Ostrovsky and Aaron Andalman, studied the case of a woman in India who was born blind owing to congenital cataracts in both eyes. The woman was completely blind for 12 years before she was identified for treatment. Now, twenty years after her surgery, the researchers found that she is able to discern between separate objects, determine depth, localize faces amongst a background of natural scenes, and match faces by their identity. This case demonstrated that a person can acquire visual function even after being deprived of sight for an extended period during childhood. The evidence gathered from this case study presents a scientific alternative to the widely noted "critical period" that the brain undergoes during childhood. The critical period theory asserts that the brain's learning mechanisms are significantly dependent on early sensory stimulation. Sinha and his colleagues posit that while some aspects of vision, such as acuity, might indeed be subject to critical periods, many other aspects of functional vision might be learnable even at later ages.
AdvertisementIn other words, perhaps our brain is not as rigid as we think, and its plasticity remains even after several years of compromised sensory experience. The results of this study provide an argument for even late-stage blindness treatments and guide researchers towards an improved understanding of the complexities of the brain.