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Visual sensory stimulation interferes with people’s ability to echolocate object size.

Thaler, L. and Foresteire, D. (2017) 'Visual sensory stimulation interferes with people’s ability to echolocate object size.', Scientific reports., 7 . p. 13069.


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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Publisher statement:Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:14 September 2017
Date deposited:18 September 2017
Date of first online publication:12 October 2017
Date first made open access:16 October 2017

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