The brain recognizes prosthetic limbs as being just like real flesh and blood limbs, a recent study shows.
Brain Recognizes: Study Results
The study, led by University College London, included 32 people with one hand, alongside a control group with two hands. Both groups were shown images of prosthetic hands, including their own, as well as real limbs. An MRI scan was then used to assess their neural responses.
The brain has an area within the visual cortex that enables people to recognize hands. Participants with a prosthetic hand had a stronger neural response compared to the control group. This part of the brain also responded to images of prostheses that are functional but do not look like a hand.
The researchers also investigated the connection between the visual hand-selective area and the area of the cortex which controls the missing hand. They found that there was better connection between these two brain areas for people who used their prostheses regularly.
Brain Recognizes: Practical Applications of Study Results
Clare Norton, an amputee, said: The more I use my prosthesis, the more I feel like it becomes a part of me.”
The study’s lead author, Dr Tamar Makin, said: “While the use of a prosthesis can be very beneficial to people with one hand, most people with one hand prefer not to use one regularly, so understanding how they can be more user-friendly could be very valuable.”
“If the brain recognizes that the artificial limb is the person’s real limb, prostheses can be easier to use.”
These results can be used to improve rehabilitation strategies as well as prosthesis design. The brain will respond to its prosthetic hand as it does to a real hand, if used constantly.
Our brains can adapt at any age. This goes against current theories that brain plasticity depends only if developed early in life.