Pathology, plasticity and the sharpened mind

wireframe_head_light.jpgThe ever-excellent Developing Intelligence has just posted about research that suggests that certain types of brain pathology may selectively improve mental performance.

The first article reports on research that suggests that children with a history of febrile seizures (seizures or ‘fits’ caused by fever) tend to do better in school than their peers.

This is initially surprising, as seizures are traditionally associated with mental impairment if they occur frequently. As the Developing Intelligence article mentions, it is worth waiting until further evidence is gathered to be sure that this is a reliable finding, as the study uses some non-standard tests.

It does suggest the idea, however, that the brain maintains a “delicate balancing act” and that some things that may confer an advantage may also confer a risk of brain disturbances.

The second article reports that deaf people have enhanced motion sensitivity in that they can detect motion over a wider area than control participants.

Motion sensitivity is known to involve the magnocellular parts of the visual pathway. Motion sensitivity and magnocellular brain function are also known to be particularly sensitive to impairment in certain developmental conditions (such as dyslexia and autism).

The authors of the study thought that this area might, therefore, be most likely to show better performance where sensory problems (i.e. deafness) meant that vision was used to a much greater degree.

They found exactly this pattern of performance, and note that this is likely further evidence for the brain’s ‘plasticity’ – where the brain reorganises through experience.

Link to article ‘Working Memory and Convulsions’.
Link to article ‘Perceptual Enhancement Among the Deaf’.

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