The human brain uses different regions of the visual cortex to process recognition of living and inanimate objects. Researchers have now shown that this doesn't depend entirely on the ability to see the objects: it occurs even in people who have been blind since birth.
Alfonso Caramazza at Harvard University, Bradford Mahon at the University of Rochester in New York and their colleagues read out lists of six animals to congenitally blind individuals and sighted people, all with closed eyes, asking them to compare the animals' sizes. Using functional brain imaging, the researchers showed that the lateral occipital cortex became active in both groups. But when lists of non-living objects, such as tools, were read out, a different area of the visual cortex — the medial fusiform gyrus — was activated.
Evolution may have selected for hard-wiring that separates neural categories for animals — towards which humans have important emotional responses — from those for non-living things, the authors say.