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One of the most exciting recent findings in neuroscience has been the capacity for neural plasticity in adult humans and animals. Studies of perceptual learning have provided key insights into the mechanisms of neural plasticity and the changes in functional neuroanatomy that it affords. Key questions in this field of research concern how practice of a task leads to specific or general improvement. Although much of this work has been carried out with a focus on a single sensory modality, primarily visual, there is increasing interest in multisensory perceptual learning. Here we will examine how advances in perceptual learning research both inform and can be informed by the development and advancement of sensory substitution devices for blind persons. To allow ‘sight’ to occur in the absence of visual input through the eyes, visual information can be transformed by a sensory substitution device into a representation that can be processed as sound or touch, and thus give one the potential to ‘see’ through the ears or tongue. Investigations of auditory, visual and multisensory perceptual learning can have key benefits for the advancement of sensory substitution, and the study of sensory deprivation and sensory substitution likewise will further the understanding of perceptual learning in general and the reverse hierarchy theory in particular. It also has significant importance for the developing understanding of the brain in metamodal terms, where functional brain areas might be best defined by the computations they carry out rather than by their sensory-specific processing role.
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