The proposed experiments in this project build towards addressing questions about neuroplasticity and resilience in the human cortex.

To understand the neuroplasticity and resilience of the neural systems that underlie human communication, it is vital to include in a program of study populations with variations in

  • timing of first and second language exposure
  • modality of language (i.e. tactile, auditory, visual)
  • sensory experience (deaf-blind, hearing, and deaf populations)

The proposed project here focuses specifically on a deaf-blind population that uses a tactile language (i.e. ProTactile American Sign Language (ASL), PTASL).

We know that human language processing neural networks are constrained, yet flexible, and permits our species to learn and use a wide range of language structures and languages encoded in multiple modalities (visual, tactile, and auditory).

By including deaf-blind PTASL signers in the corpus of cognitive neuroscience literature, we advance the understanding of the mechanisms that make this possible, and, vitally, we illuminate possible overarching principles that guide human neural reorganization and resilience.

Furthermore, the proposed experiments in this project begin to address key questions that have very strong relevance to society (particularly deaf-blind populations) surrounding debates about whether observed neural reorganization are instances of “maladaptive plasticity” or “functional resilience.”

By clarifying the scientific principles that underlie neuroplasticity findings and their interpretation, policies revolving around learning (e.g. optimizing language acquisition, sensory intervention for infants, reading practices, etc.) can be optimized greatly and the community may benefit indirectly from this proposed research project.

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Neural Basis of Tactile and Visual Language Processing

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