Human echolocation: Blind and sighted persons' ability to detect sounds recorded in the presence of a reflecting object

Document type: Journal Articles
Article type: Original article
Peer reviewed: Yes
Author(s): Bo Schenkman, Mats E. Nilsson
Title: Human echolocation: Blind and sighted persons' ability to detect sounds recorded in the presence of a reflecting object
Journal: Perception
Year: 2010
Volume: 39
Issue: 4
Pagination: 483-501
ISSN: 0301-0066
Publisher: PION LTD
URI/DOI: 10.1068/p6473
ISI number: 000278281300004
Organization: Blekinge Institute of Technology
Department: School of Management (Sektionen för management)
School of Management S- 371 79 Karlskrona
+46 455 38 50 00
Language: English
Abstract: Research suggests that blind people are superior to sighted in echolocation, but systematic psychoacoustic studies on environmental conditions such as distance to objects, signal duration, and reverberation are lacking. Therefore, two experiments were conducted. Noise bursts of 5, 50, or 500 ms were reproduced by a loudspeaker on an artificial manikin in an ordinary room and in an anechoic chamber. The manikin recorded the sounds binaurally in the presence and absence of a reflecting 1.5-mm thick aluminium disk, 0.5 in in diameter, placed in front, at distances of 0.5 to 5 m. These recordings were later presented to ten visually handicapped and ten sighted people, 30 62 years old, using a 2AFC paradigm with feedback. The task was to detect which of two sounds that contained the reflecting object. The blind performed better than the sighted participants. All performed well with the object at < 2 in distance. Detection increased with longer signal durations. Performance was slightly better in the ordinary room than in the anechoic chamber. A supplementary experiment on the two best blind persons showed that their superior performance at distances > 2 m was not by chance. Detection thresholds showed that blind participants could detect the object at longer distances in the conference room than in the anechoic chamber, when using the longer-duration sounds and also as compared to the sighted people. Audiometric tests suggest that equal hearing in both ears is important for echolocation. Possible echolocation mechanisms are discussed.
Subject: Psychology\General
Physical Acoustics\General
Nursing & Caring Sciences\General