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Blind Echolocation

June 20, 2011

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



The brains behind echolocation…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A few blind people can echolocate, like bats or dolphins: they make vocal clicks, and listen to the echoes to detect nearby objects. Now, Canadian scientists have shown that they use their brains’ visual processing centers to do it. University of Western Ontario neuroscientist Melvyn Goodale and his colleagues recorded two blind echolocators in an outdoor setting.

MELVYN GOODALE (University of Western Ontario):

And then we later took those sound files and in some of them, we 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.


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. Goodale says the findings could help scientists develop training techniques for other would-be echolocators. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.