Blindness and the Brain

Priscilla Jackson

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The Affect of Blindess on the Structure of the Developing Brain

When an individual is born blind or becomes blind later in life the way their brain differs from individuals who can see due to structural changes. The brain is able to adapt and compensate for the reduced volume in areas normally devoted to vision (University of California, 2009). Research suggests that the brain is able to reorganize itself functionally in order to adapt to a loss in sensory input also known as neuroplasticity (MindHacks, 2007).
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The Brain in Sighted and Blind Individuals

When an individual can see their vision begins in their retina (Breedlove & Watson, 2013). The connection then goes to the photoreceptors called rods and cones which then releases neurotransmitter molecules which controls the activity of the bipolar cells that synapse with them (Breedlove & Watson, 2013). The bipolar cells then connect with the ganglion cells whose axons form the optic nerve which carries information to the brain (Breedlove & Watson, 2013). A sighted person is able to navigate the world through their eyes and brain connections but a blind individual has to perceive the world in other ways.

A Blind individual's brain compensates for the inability to see by heightening other senses in order to perceive the world. For instance, a blind individual may be able to hear or feel better than a sighted individual in order to make up for the lack of vision. How someone's brain makes up for the lack of vision depends on when the person becomes blind. This is because the age of when someone becomes blind also depends on how much brain matter is lost or gained (University of California, 2009). One thing researchers found that did not depend on age is enlargement in areas of the brain not responsible for vision namely the frontal lobes (University of California, 2009).

Videos that Explain Vision and the Brain

Dr. Brian Wandell discusses Understanding Blindness and the Brain in the following video:

How Vision Works Inside our Brain is a video that can be seen in the following link:


Breedlove, S. M., & Watson, N. V. (2013). Biological Psychology (7th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates Inc.

MindHacks. (2007). The unique construction of the blind brain. MindHacks. Retrieved from

University of California. (2009). Blindness causes structural brain changes, implying brain can re-organize itself to adapt. Science Daily. Retrieved from