Blind echolocators recruit visual regions of brain

Research presented at a Canadian neuroscience conference suggests echolocation is a form of sensory substitution, with brain areas recruited to process their surroundings

27 May 2015 by Ryan O'Hare

Blind people who use echolocation to navigate their environment recruit regions of their brain used for vision, according to research presented at a meeting of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience in Vancouver last week (May 24).

Researchers showed that a region of the brain typically associated with scene perception in sighted people, called the parahippocampal cortex, is activated in blind people using echolocation to locate objects in their environment, but not in non-echolocating blind people. 

Using functional MRI, researchers at the University of Western Ontario in Canada measured brain activity of echolocators responding to the sounds of audible clicks they made bouncing off of objects in their surroundings.

Professor Mel Goodale, a neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario, said: “Our experiments show that echolocation is not just a tool to help visually-impaired individuals navigate their environment, but can act as an effective sensory replacement for vision, allowing them to recognise the shape, size and material properties of objects.” 

Image credit: Allan Ajifo

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