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Marina Bedny

Marina Bedny

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, USA

Marina Bedny

Biography

Marina Bedny is an Assistant Professor at John Hopkins University in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. Her research interests evolve around the nature vs. nurture debate and its contribution to the human mind and brain. Dissecting the deepest secrets of vision through methods of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology, she aims to discover and understand the brain differences between sighted and blind individuals.

Prof. Bedny is the head of the Neuroplasticity and Development Lab at John Hopkins University. The team’s research has revealed the existence of an organizing system responsible for the repurposing process in the cortex of blind people. Interestingly, the visual cortex region’s activity was found to be related to making meaning from language, leaving us all with a question of how far from its evolved function can certain regions of the human brain go.

Marina Bedny received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006. She spent the following years as a Postdoctoral fellow at the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology respectively. In 2013 she accepted a position as an assistant professor at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University.

Talk: "Built to learn: Insights into nature and nurture from studies with people born blind and cultural expertise"

Humans are unique among animals both in their advanced shared cognitive capabilities and in their remarkable ability to adapt to diverse environments. Studies with people who are born blind provide insights into the biological and cognitive origins of the human flexibility/specificity sweet-spot. Contrary to the suppositions of early empiricist philosophers, blind and sighted people share rich ‘visual' knowledge, including knowledge of color. Such evidence is inconsistent with accounts of development that emphasize bottom up sensory learning. Instead, blindness illustrates the power of uniquely human social, linguistic and inferential learning. On the other hand, evidence from blindness reveals the remarkable flexibility of the human brain. ‘Visual’ occipital cortices serve drastically different cognitive functions across sighted and congenitally blind people: visual perception in the sighted, higher-order cognition in people born blind. Visual cortex plasticity suggests ‘wetware pluripotency’ at birth. Blindness is just one example of the human brain adapting to change, supporting cultural inventions such as reading, math and computer programming. There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ brain. Instead, we are born with a protobrain that is built to learn and adapt to our particular environment. 

Selected Publications

Arcos, K., Harhen, N., Loiotile, R., Bedny, M., 2022. Superior verbal but not nonverbal memory in congenital blindness. Exp. brain Res. 240, 897–908.


Bedny, M., Pascual-Leone, A., Dodell-Feder, D., Fedorenko, E., Saxe, R., 2011. Language processing in the occipital cortex of congenitally blind adults. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 108, 4429–4434.


Thompson-Schill, S.L., Bedny, M., Goldberg, R.F., 2005. The frontal lobes and the regulation of mental activity. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 15, 219–224.


Kanjlia, S., Pant, R., Bedny, M., 2019. Sensitive Period for Cognitive Repurposing of Human Visual Cortex. Cereb. Cortex 29, 3993–4005.


More information

Bedny Lab website

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