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Brain systems mediating voice identity processing in blind humans

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Abstract

Blind people rely more on vocal cues when they recognize a person's identity than sighted people. Indeed, a number of studies have reported better voice recognition skills in blind than in sighted adults. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging study investigated changes in the functional organization of neural systems involved in voice identity processing following congenital blindness. A group of congenitally blind individuals and matched sighted control participants were tested in a priming paradigm, in which two voice stimuli (S1, S2) were subsequently presented. The prime (S1) and the target (S2) were either from the same speaker (person-congruent voices) or from two different speakers (person-incongruent voices). Participants had to classify the S2 as either a old or a young person. Person-incongruent voices (S2) compared with person-congruent voices elicited an increased activation in the right anterior fusiform gyrus in congenitally blind individuals but not in matched sighted control participants. In contrast, only matched sighted controls showed a higher activation in response to person-incongruent compared with person-congruent voices (S2) in the right posterior superior temporal sulcus. These results provide evidence for crossmodal plastic changes of the person identification system in the brain after visual deprivation. Hum Brain Mapp 35:4607–4619, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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