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Nat Neurosci. 1998 Sep;1(5):417-21.

Relearning sound localization with new ears.

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  • 1University of Nijmegen, Department of Medical Physics and Biophysics, The Netherlands.


Because the inner ear is not organized spatially, sound localization relies on the neural processing of implicit acoustic cues. To determine a sound's position, the brain must learn and calibrate these cues, using accurate spatial feedback from other sensorimotor systems. Experimental evidence for such a system has been demonstrated in barn owls, but not in humans. Here, we demonstrate the existence of ongoing spatial calibration in the adult human auditory system. The spectral elevation cues of human subjects were disrupted by modifying their outer ears (pinnae) with molds. Although localization of sound elevation was dramatically degraded immediately after the modification, accurate performance was steadily reacquired. Interestingly, learning the new spectral cues did not interfere with the neural representation of the original cues, as subjects could localize sounds with both normal and modified pinnae.

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