Artists Who Paint With Their Feet Have Unique Brain Patterns

By Claudia Lopez-Lloreda/Smithsonianmag.com

Tom Yendell creates stunningly colorful landscapes of purple, yellow and white flowers that jump out of the canvas. But unlike most artists, Yendell was born without arms, so he paints with his feet. For Yendell, painting with toes is the norm, but for neuroscientists, the artistic hobby presents an opportunity to understand how the brain can adapt to different physical experiences.

“It was through meeting and observing [Yendell] doing his amazing painting that we were really inspired to think about what that would do to the brain,” says Harriet Dempsey-Jones, a postdoctoral researcher at the University College London (UCL) Plasticity Lab. The lab, run by UCL neurologist Tamar Makin, is devoted to studying the sensory maps of the brain.

Sensory maps assign brain space to process motion and register sensations from different parts of the body. These maps can be thought of as a projection of the body onto the brain. For example, the area dedicated to the arms is next to the area dedicated to the shoulders and so on throughout the body.

Specifically, Makin’s team at the Plasticity Lab studies the sensory maps that represent the hands and the feet…

 

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