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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 00:29 GMT
Brain helps deaf enjoy music
Brain scan
The brain's auditory cortex helps deaf people hear music
Scientists believe they have discovered why deaf people can enjoy listening to music and why some can perform or, like Beethoven, even compose.

Dr Dean Shibata, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Washington, has found that deaf people sense musical vibrations in the part of the brain other people use for hearing.

These musical vibrations are, he believes, likely to be "every bit as real" as actually hearing the sounds.

Dr Shibata told the 87th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, in Chicago, that deaf people and those with hearing may have similar experiences when they listen to music.

The enjoyment of music by deaf people has been overlooked for too long

Dr John Low, RNID
"These findings suggest that the experience deaf people have when 'feeling' music is similar to the experience other people have when hearing music.

"The perception of the musical vibrations by the deaf is likely every bit as real as the equivalent sounds, since they are ultimately processed in the same part of the brain."

Dr Shibata's findings are based on a study of 10 deaf people and 11 with normal hearing.

He used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare brain activity between both groups when they were subjected to intermittent vibrations on their hands.

Both groups showed brain activity in the part of the brain that normally processes vibrations.

However, those who were deaf also showed brain activity in the auditory cortex - the area of the brain normally only used during auditory stimulation. Those with normal hearing did not show such brain activity.

Brain development

Dr Shibata suggested his findings made a strong case for exposing deaf children to music early in life.

He said such an experience would help the auditory cortex of the brain to develop and maximise their chances of enjoying music.

Dr John Low, director of technology at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People welcomed the paper.

"The enjoyment of music by deaf people has been overlooked for too long and the findings appear to support the experiences reported by deaf people.

"Technology to help deaf people to enjoy music is an important area that RNID is planning further work into and encourages its development."

See also:

08 Mar 01 | Health
Genetic clues to musical ability
06 Feb 98 | Sci/Tech
Genetic cause of deafness found
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