“As well as being fascinating, the study has potentially important practical implications. “Our data raise the possibility that if people do not share common visual experiences of a stimulus during childhood, either from disease, as is the case in cataracts, or cultural differences in viewing patterns, then an atypical or unique representation of that stimulus may result in adulthood, which has important implications for learning disabilities and social disabilities,” the researchers write.
“Consider autism, for example, which is associated with difficulties recognising faces and an aversion to eye contact. If kids with autism grow up looking at faces differently from how most children do, perhaps this explains the observed deficits in the function of the face-sensitive region of their visual cortex, and in turn this could contribute to the social difficulties that autistic children experience. If this account is correct, then finding out how long the window of visual cortical plasticity lasts will be critical for designing effective interventions for autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. “
If you have healthy vision, there will be a specific region of your brain (in the visual cortex) that responds most strongly whenever you look at faces, and similar regions that are especially responsive to the sight of words or natural scenes. What’s more, in any two people, these face, word and scene regions are located in pretty much the same spot in the brain. However, there is not a specific region for every possible category of visible stimulus – there are no “car” or “shoe” regions, for example (at least, not that have been identified to date). Is that because childhood experience is critical for training the visual cortex – we spend a lot of time looking at faces, say, but not cars? And, if so, in theory, could a lot of childhood time spent looking at a different type of object generate its own dedicated, individual…
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