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Research Shows How Deaf Cats' Brains Re-Purpose Auditory Centers 100

Posted by Soulskill
from the heard-that dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Deaf or blind people often report enhanced abilities in their remaining senses, but up until now, no one has explained how and why that could be. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario, led by Stephen Lomber of The Centre for Brain and Mind, have discovered there is a causal link between enhanced visual abilities and reorganization of the part of the brain that usually handles auditory input in congenitally deaf cats. The findings, published online in Nature Neuroscience, provide insight into the plasticity that may occur in the brains of deaf people."
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Research Shows How Deaf Cats' Brains Re-Purpose Auditory Centers

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  • what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Monday October 11, 2010 @05:02PM (#33863144) Journal

    but up until now, no one has explained how and why that could be.

    ok, I agree that it's interesting research, but have they really never heard the explanation that they use them more? Neuroplasticity is awesome, but there certainly have been explanations for it before now.....

  • Re:My cat isn't deaf (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FrostDust (1009075) on Monday October 11, 2010 @05:11PM (#33863218)

    That experiment would be more valid if you had different items.

    Use a can of food he wouldn't eat, or something that's not even food, and then the cat food in a different container, like a Ziplock bag. Seperate the stimuli artifically, such as wafting cat-food scents at him, or an audio recording of a can opening.

    Try to figure out which stimuli he's reacting to.

  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Monday October 11, 2010 @05:45PM (#33863476) Homepage

    I read the summary, it's kind of interesting. The graphs in the actual article look pretty definitive. But a sentence stood out to me:

    Cats are the only animal besides humans that can be born deaf.

    Does anyone know what that is? I've never heard this before. My natural assumption would be that most animals could be born deaf, and that it's just selected out of the population by natural selection. But if that were the case, we'd expect other animals (especially those without natural selection pressures, such as domesticated Dogs) to be born deaf.

    But just cats and humans? What about other primates?

  • Re:My cat isn't deaf (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shadowbearer (554144) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:51PM (#33864006) Homepage Journal

      I did this experiment a few years ago on our three (now two) cats. It's definitely the sound of the can opener, they associate it with tuna cans; but I can open any other can and they come running.

      The interesting thing about it is that when my youngest cat was just a few months old, he did not associate the sound of the can with tuna treat - until he observed the other cats running for the kitchen, then he followed along and got a snack. It only took a couple of repetitions before he was responding the same way they did. So it's definitely a learned ability.

      Cats hearing is incredible. I can go outside and down to the mailbox (about 100 ft), open a can, and they'll be waiting for me at the door when I return, even if the windows are closed.

      Cats are extremely intelligent and besides making wonderful companions, are absolutely fascinating to observe. Our oldest, whom we lost about a year and a half ago, was a regular practical joker - he'd pull all sorts of funny stunts clearly designed just to get a laugh out of the humans - and if I pulled the camera out would go extremely photogenic - he clearly knew what it was for. He wasn't just begging for treats, either, we determined that early on - if we tried to give him a treat for his "trick" he'd sniff in a disdainful manner and walk away.

      He was nearly twenty when we lost him and I had the opportunity to watch him refining his "acts" over a decade and a half. My youngest tomcat, mentioned above, is following right along in his path - it does seem that toms, and particularly mixed breed toms, have a considerable amount more awareness than female or purebred cats.

      We miss that old tom a great deal. If one of us was depressed or tired he'd go to extremes to make us laugh, then come and look in our eyes for a while... he was unique in my experience of many cats.

    SB

     

  • Pointless (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evil_aar0n (1001515) on Monday October 11, 2010 @09:52PM (#33865356)

    They didn't need to go to the trouble to "discover" that: they could have asked me. I lost my hearing at age 17 and, in response, my brain increased its abilities 10-fold, easily, so that I'm now the smartest man on the planet. Why, yes, I am wearing my underwear outside of my pants. Why do you ask...?

    No, seriously, I did lose my hearing. I found that I compensated for it by paying way more attention to non-verbal cues. For example, I can tell before an interviewer even knows it, himself, that I'm not gonna get the job. I can also see it, clearly, when someone's trying to BS me. You also learn introspection, since you don't have the auditory distractions.

  • Re:My cat isn't deaf (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shadowbearer (554144) on Monday October 11, 2010 @10:11PM (#33865480) Homepage Journal

      The only way that I can possibly respond to that is to say that you did not live with him and get to know him. I've had enough scientific training that I believe I can differentiate between my bias and objective interpretations. I may be wrong, but after a decade and a half of observing his behaviour, I don't think I am. It may or may not be relevant, but nearly all the "cat people" I know think that I am too objective in the way I treat them (they don't understand the fascination I find in watching them, even as they accept the fact that I love them - many cat people find it objectionable that I find cats "fascinating" as well as good companions. I find that viewpoint to be pretty narrow.

      It might be that because he lived in a household with humans who tended towards that sort of humour that he picked up on the behaviour - he had plenty of years to do so. However, I don't think so - many of his jokes did not reflect anything we would have done in that situation; IOW original; and because of that I believe that they were his own invention. He was certainly inventive enough, in the mischief he'd get in to!

      I realize that a scientific study would require a randomized, controlled environment to determine what we've been talking about. At the risk of sounding biased, I will say that cats may not necessarily behave the same way in a controlled study as they would when they are living with people they trust and not being scrutinised closely - which, if I may say so, might very well be a problem with humans in such studies as well ( and such has been documented) - in that they know they are being scrutinised and will act differently within that knowledge.

      I suspect that it's probably impossible to study a conscious, living being without any sort of introduced bias if the subject of the study knows they are being studied; whether they are informed of it or not, any living being capable of conscious thought is likely going to be at least somewhat aware of the scrutiny. One could argue that any living being with conscious awareness which doesn't notice the surveillance isn't really very aware of it's surroundings; but technology is changing that rather rapidly. Still, in any sort of scientific medical study, given the ethical guidelines they have to operate under, such awareness is a given.

      Anyone who says that cats aren't aware of human scrutiny has never lived with one.

      Gets complicated, don't it? ;-) Seriously, anyone who thinks that there aren't people who lie to their shrinks, control scientists, (or confessors, etc) is living in a fantasy world... as was pointed out in a New Scientist article recently, "white lies" are the basis of much of the social glue which keeps us from killing each other. That has of course been pointed out many times over the thousands of years of human syphilization.

      Look; I think the scientific method is the best way to really find out how the world works. I also think it has it's blind spots, and it's flaws, and that we have a long way to go to improve what we are doing now.

      On a more emotional level: We can't even treat the members of our own species as equals (look at the controversy, even in the scientific community, over the discovery of genetic differences between various "races" of humans; and then tell me how competent we are to determine whether or not other mammals share at least some of the traits of consciousness and intelligence; or that perhaps some of them may be better...

      that's enough for tonight...

    SB

     

The most delightful day after the one on which you buy a cottage in the country is the one on which you resell it. -- J. Brecheux

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