It is a popular belief that losing one sense will sharpen your remaining senses. What is the science behind this idea? Do sight and touch really improve to compensate for hearing loss?
Research shows that the brains of deaf people go through a sort of re-wiring. The brain area that would usually be responsible for decoding noise changes its purpose. It starts to process visual stimuli or touch instead.
This process is fascinating because it points to the amazing regenerative abilities of the brain.
In the study, people who lost their hearing suddenly need time to learn how to compensate for hearing loss. By learning more about re-wiring, medical science can find the best ways to aid rehabilitation.
So How Can Hearing Problems Improve Your Senses?
Studies have found that deaf people have better visual focus than hearing people do. In a sense, this means that they can compensate for hearing loss by seeing better. However, there are some very important caveats to consider:
- This is only true for adults. Children with hearing loss need a lot of time to learn how to use their other senses in the best possible way.
- Outside of attention-dependent tasks, there was no significant difference between hearing people and those with hearing loss.
What about other senses? Scientists discovered that people who have a particular kind of inherited hearing loss are more sensitive to touch than hearing people are.
In this case, it’s not just brain re-wiring and learned focus. Touch sensitivity gets heightened because of genetics. The gene mutation that causes hearing loss also changes the way touch-based signals move between cells.
Some people with hearing problems have better than average vision or touch. But it takes a while to learn how to use these senses to compensate for hearing loss.