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Perception. 1998;27(1):105-22.

Spatial hearing in children with visual disabilities.

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Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN 37232-8700, USA.


A study is reported of the effect of early visual experience on the development of auditory space perception. The spatial hearing of thirty-five children with visual disabilities (twenty-two with congenital total blindness) was compared with that of eighteen sighted children and seventeen sighted adults. The tests provided a comprehensive assessment of spatial-hearing ability, including psychophysical estimates of spatial resolution in the horizontal, vertical, and distance dimensions, as well as measures of reaching and walking to the locations of sound sources. The spatial hearing of the children with visual disabilities was comparable to or somewhat better than that of the sighted children and adults. This pattern held even when the group with visual disabilities was restricted to those children with congenital total blindness; in fact, some of those children had exceptionally good spatial hearing. These findings imply that the developmental calibration of human spatial hearing is not dependent on a history of visual experience. It seems likely that this calibration arises from the experience of changes in sound-localization cues arising from self-motion, such as turning the head or walking. As a practical matter, orientation and mobility instructors may reasonably assume that individuals with visual disabilities can use their hearing effectively in day-to-day travel situations.

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