06/07/2010

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Presenter Peter White turns guinea-pig to help with groundbreaking research on how people can "read" with their fingers. Despite innate clumsiness as a child, Peter is reckoned to be one of the fastest Braille readers in Britain. So what happens when he reads? Neuro-scientist Professor Alvaro Pascual-Leone has invited Peter to Harvard so that they can study his brain. Pascual-Leone's initial research suggests, fascinatingly, that when totally blind people read Braille the interpretation of the text is done by the occipital cortex, the part of the brain which normally processes vision, not touch! So how does that under-employed bit of Peter's brain "know" that he is in fact "reading", and not just "touching"? In 'Braille on the Brain' we follow Peter's progress as he submits himself to MRI scans and reading tests, and scarily discovers that when attempts are made to "block" the visual part of his brain, his reading is seriously inhibited. We follow him as he is encased in a tube, submits to blows to the skull, and to impulses being sent to his occipital cortex. But the whole process has a very serious aim: only about five per cent of blind people can read Braille; if we understood better how the process works, perhaps we could have a real impact on those figures.

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20 minutes

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Tue 6 Jul 2010 20:40