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Self-motion facilitates echo-acoustic orientation in humans

R Soc Open Sci 1: 140185. 10.1098/rsos.140185. eCollection 2014.

Authors/Editors: Wallmeier L
Wiegrebe L
Publication Date: 2014
Type of Publication: Journal Articles 2001 - 2018


The ability of blind humans to navigate complex environments through echolocation has received rapidly increasing scientific interest. However, technical limitations have precluded a formal quantification of the interplay between echolocation and self-motion. Here, we use a novel virtual echo-acoustic space technique to formally quantify the influence of self-motion on echo-acoustic orientation. We show that both the vestibular and proprioceptive components of self-motion contribute significantly to successful echo-acoustic orientation in humans: specifically, our results show that vestibular input induced by whole-body self-motion resolves orientation-dependent biases in echo-acoustic cues. Fast head motions, relative to the body, provide additional proprioceptive cues which allow subjects to effectively assess echo-acoustic space referenced against the body orientation. These psychophysical findings clearly demonstrate that human echolocation is well suited to drive precise locomotor adjustments. Our data shed new light on the sensory-motor interactions, and on possible optimization strategies underlying echolocation in humans.

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