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Blind Echolocation

July 11, 2017

Blind people who can echolocate use their brain’s visual center to do so.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Human echolocation…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A few blind people can echolocate, like bats or dolphins: they make vocal clicks, listening for the echoes to detect nearby objects. The skill depends on their brains’ visual processing centers, writes University of Western Ontario neuroscientist Melvyn Goodale in the journal PLOS ONE. He and his team recorded two blind echolocators in an outdoor setting.

MELVYN GOODALE (University of Western Ontario):

And then we later took those sound files and arranged it so that there were no longer any echoes there. Everything else was there: the traffic noise and the wind and the trees and the clicks, but no echoes.

HIRSHON:

When they played the recordings back in the lab, the volunteers’ visual centers kicked into high gear when they heard the echoes, but not during the echo-free recordings. The findings could help researchers develop training techniques for other would-be echolocators. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard