Being deaf may cause difficulties in social interactions, but new research indicates that social struggles experienced by deaf individuals are likely not due to brain alterations but rather due to non-supportive environments. 

The findings, which are published in Human Brain Mapping, suggest that deafness does not affect the mechanisms and brain circuits supporting social skills.

For the research, investigators analyzed published neuroimaging studies focusing on social perception in deaf versus hearing participants. Results indicated that both deaf and hearing participants recruited the same brain regions when performing different social tasks.

“Indeed, both deaf and hearing control participants recruited regions of the action observation network during performance of different social tasks employing visual stimuli, including biological motion perception, face identification, action observation, viewing, identification and memory for signs and lip reading,” according to the study’s abstract. “Moreover, we found increased recruitment of the superior-middle temporal cortex in deaf individuals compared with hearing participants, suggesting a preserved and augmented function during social communication based on signs and lip movements

Deaf individuals showed greater activation in regions involved in processing social information from visual inputs, such as sign language and lip reading.

“Promoting learning of sign language in hearing individuals, as well as providing salient visual cues in social situations, would facilitate social inclusion of deaf individuals,” the authors wrote.

Further reading: Researchers Examine Brain-Sign Language Link