The brain can reorganize itself in the face of a traumatic injury or a sensory disability. For example, in deaf mammals, the auditory processing neurons of the brain may be rewired to handle other stimuli. But we haven’t been able to figure out if this reorganization is task-specific—will the circuits be recruited to do the same tasks?—or more general.
A recent study published in PNAS suggests that, in at least one case, these brain circuits are repurposed for a similar task. When deaf people were asked to interpret visual rhythms (represented by a flashing light), the same auditory processing regions used to listen to rhythms were activated.
This study used fMRI to look at the brain activation of both congenitally deaf subjects and those with normal hearing. While in the fMRI machine, all subjects were asked to discriminate between different rhythms of flashing lights. As a control, all subjects were also asked to look at a light that flashed with a regular, predictable pattern. Hearing subjects were then asked to discriminate between different auditory rhythms as well. As a control, these subjects were asked to listen to a similar noise occurring in a regular, consistent pattern.
"...George Gerbner coined a phrase for this phenomenon back in the 1970s, when television news was beginning to permeate the popular consciousness. “Mean World Syndrome” is when you believe the world is worse than it really is thanks to overstimulation by media."