Durham University



Publication details for Dr Lore Thaler

Thaler, L. & Foresteire, D. (2017). Visual sensory stimulation interferes with people’s ability to echolocate object size. Scientific Reports 7: 13069.

Author(s) from Durham


Echolocation is the ability to use sound-echoes to infer spatial information about the environment. People can echolocate for example by making mouth clicks. Previous research suggests that echolocation in blind people activates brain areas that process light in sighted people. Research has also shown that echolocation in blind people may replace vision for calibration of external space. In the current study we investigated if echolocation may also draw on ‘visual’ resources in the sighted brain. To this end, we paired a sensory interference paradigm with an echolocation task. We found that exposure to an uninformative visual stimulus (i.e. white light) while simultaneously echolocating significantly reduced participants’ ability to accurately judge object size. In contrast, a tactile stimulus (i.e. vibration on the skin) did not lead to a significant change in performance (neither in sighted, nor blind echo expert participants). Furthermore, we found that the same visual stimulus did not affect performance in auditory control tasks that required detection of changes in sound intensity, sound frequency or sound location. The results suggest that processing of visual and echo-acoustic information draw on common neural resources.

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