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J Neurosci. 1989 Sep;9(9):3306-13.

Vision calibrates sound localization in developing barn owls.

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Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, California 94305.


This study demonstrates that continuous exposure of baby barn owls to a displaced visual field causes a shift in sound localization in the direction of the visual displacement. This implies an innate dominance of vision over audition in the development and maintenance of sound localization. Twelve owls were raised from the first day of eye opening wearing binocular prisms that displaced the visual field to the right by 11 degrees, 23 degrees, or 34 degrees. The prisms were worn for periods of up to 7 months. Consistent with previous results (Knudsen and Knudsen, 1989a), owls reared with displacing prisms did not adjust head orientation to visual stimuli. While wearing prisms, owls consistently oriented the head to the right of visual targets, and, as soon as the prisms were removed, they oriented the head directly at visual targets, as do normal owls. In contrast, prism-reared owls did change head orientation to sound sources even though auditory cues were not altered significantly. Birds reared wearing 11 degrees or 23 degrees prisms oriented the head to the right of acoustic targets by an amount approximately equal to the optical displacement induced by the prisms. Birds raised wearing 34 degrees prisms adjusted sound localization by only about 50% of the optical displacement. Thus, visually guided adjustment of sound localization appears to be limited to about 20 degrees in azimuth. The data indicate that when confronted with consistently discordant localization information from the auditory and visual systems, developing owls use vision to calibrate associations of auditory localization cues with locations in space in an attempt to bring into alignment the perceived locations of auditory and visual stimuli emanating from a common source. Vision exerts this instructive influence on sound localization whether or not visual information is accurate.

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