A Brief Period of Postnatal Visual Deprivation Alters the Balance between Auditory and Visual Attention
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Is a short and transient period of visual deprivation early in life sufficient to induce lifelong changes in how we attend to, and integrate, simple visual and auditory information [1, 2]? This question is of crucial importance given the recent demonstration in both animals and humans that a period of blindness early in life permanently affects the brain networks dedicated to visual, auditory, and multisensory processing [1-16]. To address this issue, we compared a group of adults who had been treated for congenital bilateral cataracts during early infancy with a group of normally sighted controls on a task requiring simple detection of lateralized visual and auditory targets, presented alone or in combination. Redundancy gains obtained from the audiovisual conditions were similar between groups and surpassed the reaction time distribution predicted by Miller's race model. However, in comparison to controls, cataract-reversal patients were faster at processing simple auditory targets and showed differences in how they shifted attention across modalities. Specifically, they were faster at switching attention from visual to auditory inputs than in the reverse situation, while an opposite pattern was observed for controls. Overall, these results reveal that the absence of visual input during the first months of life does not prevent the development of audiovisual integration but enhances the salience of simple auditory inputs, leading to a different crossmodal distribution of attentional resources between auditory and visual stimuli.
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