ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2016, Vol. 24 ›› Issue (Suppl.): 7-.

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The specialization of cross-modality tactile face processing in the blind: an fMRI study

Rui Dai; Zirui Huang; Xuchu Weng; Sheng He   

  1. Center for Cognition and Brain Disorders, Hangzhou Normal University, 58 Haishu Road, Cangqian Dist., Hangzhou, China, 311121
    School of Life Science, South China Normal University, 55 Zhongshan Road, Tianhe Dist., Guangzhou, China, 510631
    Institute of Mental Health Research, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1Z 7K4
    State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 15 Datun Road, Chaoyang Dist., Beijing, China, 100101
    Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, United States of America, 55414
  • Online:2016-12-31 Published:2016-12-31


PURPOSE: Previous studies demonstrated that fusiform face area (FFA) is the core region of face processing, which is largely innate and tuned by visual experience. However, the degree to which the face-selectivity of FFA was genetic determined remains unclear. Moreover, evidence is still lacking on elucidating the neural plasticity of the FFA in other sensory modalities (e.g. tactile).
METHODS: To investigate these questions, we studied 38 eyesight obstacle disabled subjects, who consist of four sub-groups: congenital blind, early blind, late blind and low vision. All subjects were trained ~3 hrs on perceiving man-made tactile faces and other complex object categories. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed both before and after training.
RESULTS: We found robust face-selective activation in the FFA in both the early blind and low vision subjects after training. In contrast, this was not seen in the congenital blind or late blind subjects.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that even after more than 14 years of absence of visual face exposure, the FFA can still quickly become engaged in processing face information, and even from a different sensory modality. However, despite of strong genetic determined, the specialization of face processing requires an initial visual driven start.

Key words: fusiform face area, visual experience, cross-modal plasticity, the blind, tactile training