"I think its a very good and important study," said Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, director of the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Blind people are known to be much better than sighted people at orienting themselves by sound.
offers this analogy: A sighted person who is stuck in traffic and hears a police car will look around to see where the sound is coming from; a blind person is much better able to localize the sound.
Now it seems that people who lose their sight early in life are also adept at distinguishing between tones when they are either close together in pitch or in succession.
"They can actually differentiate better whether or not this is a police car or a fire truck or something else," Schlaug
"They're better at making fine discriminations based on the composition of the actual tone."
The authors suspect the brains of people who went blind as infants or toddlers compensate for the loss of sight by enhancing auditory performance.
Scientists believe the capacity of the brain to reorganize itself, a phenomenon known as cerebral plasticity, is much greater in young children than in adults.
"The earlier a brain is challenged to adapt to a particular situation, the better it is, the more able the brain basically is to adapt," Schlaug
On the other hand, he
said stroke studies involving older adults have demonstrated the brain's ability to make needed modifications in that circumstance.
"It seems to be that plasticity is maybe faster and more efficient and will lead to better results if the injury is early in life, but we cannot conclude it doesn't happen later in life," he
SOURCES: Pascal Belin, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Psychology, University of Montreal, Quebec; Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., Ph.D., director, Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and associate professor, neurology, Harvard Medical School, Boston; July 15, 2004, Nature