Do you want to boost your hearing ability? Try spending a few days in total darkness. A new research suggests that simulated blindness can help you to hear better.
In a study published in the journal Neuron on Feb. 5, researchers experimented with two groups of mice. The mice in the first group were kept for several days in total darkness to simulate blindness while the mice in the second group remained in a naturally lit environment. The researchers then monitored and compared the brain activities and responses to certain sounds of the mice in both groups.
The researchers found that the mice that were kept in darkened environment have developed stronger connections in the parts of the brain that is responsible for processing sound suggesting that sight deprivation could lead to better hearing.
Study co-researcher Hey-Kyoung Lee, an associate professor of neuroscience and researcher at the Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said that the loss of one sense, i.e. vision, can enhance the processing of the remaining sense, which in this case is hearing, because it alters the brain circuit.
The researchers also found that the brains of the adult mice can also be rewired to compensate for temporary loss of vision by improving their hearing. "By temporarily preventing vision, we may be able to engage the adult brain to now change the circuit to better process sound, which can be helpful for recovering sound perception in patients with cochlear implants for example," Lee said.
Although the study was conducted on mice, the researchers believe the same results could be achieved in humans and may explain why blind people have strong ability to hear sounds.
"We don't know how many days a human would have to be in the dark to get this effect, and whether they would be willing to do that," said co-author Patrick Kanold, from the University of Maryland. "But there might be a way to use multi-sensory training to correct some sensory processing problems in humans."
The result of the experiment was reversible though. The mice returned to their normal hearing after a few weeks in naturally-lit environment but the researchers plan to look for ways to make the sensory improvement last.