While working on math problems, blind people use brain areas that others reserve for processing images. These areas show more activity the tougher a math problem becomes. Flickr user AJC1

When solving math problems, blind people rely on the same brain areas as sighted people. But blind people also pull in parts of the brain that others use only for vision, scientists reported September 16 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore examined the brain activity of 17 congenitally blind people and 19 sighted people wearing blindfolds as they solved math problems and completed language comprehension tests. While pondering the math problems, everyone activated areas in the frontal and parietal lobes–so some brain areas might be destined for numerical thinking.

However, the blind participants also tapped other “visual” brain areas that the sighted participants did not activate while performing calculations. This ability to repurpose brain areas that otherwise would be used for vision suggests that these regions are shaped by experience.

It’s not clear yet, though, if having this extra input gives blind people a boost when it comes to math, coauthor Shipra Kanjlia told The Atlantic.