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Exp Brain Res. 2017 Feb;235(2):597-606. doi: 10.1007/s00221-016-4823-1. Epub 2016 Nov 11.

Auditory spatial representations of the world are compressed in blind humans.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EB, UK. ak771@cam.ac.uk.
2
Vision and Eye Research Unit (VERU), Postgraduate Medical Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, YST 215, Young Street, Cambridge, CB1 1PT, UK. ak771@cam.ac.uk.
3
Centre for the Study of the Senses, Institute of Philosophy, University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU, UK. ak771@cam.ac.uk.
4
Vision and Eye Research Unit (VERU), Postgraduate Medical Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, YST 215, Young Street, Cambridge, CB1 1PT, UK.
5
Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EB, UK.

Abstract

Compared to sighted listeners, blind listeners often display enhanced auditory spatial abilities such as localization in azimuth. However, less is known about whether blind humans can accurately judge distance in extrapersonal space using auditory cues alone. Using virtualization techniques, we show that auditory spatial representations of the world beyond the peripersonal space of blind listeners are compressed compared to those for normally sighted controls. Blind participants overestimated the distance to nearby sources and underestimated the distance to remote sound sources, in both reverberant and anechoic environments, and for speech, music, and noise signals. Functions relating judged and actual virtual distance were well fitted by compressive power functions, indicating that the absence of visual information regarding the distance of sound sources may prevent accurate calibration of the distance information provided by auditory signals.

KEYWORDS:

Auditory distance; Blindness; Multisensory plasticity; Sound localization; Spatial hearing

PMID:
27837259
PMCID:
PMC5272902
DOI:
10.1007/s00221-016-4823-1
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Ethical approval All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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