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Researchers have Trained People to Echolocate in Just 10 Weeks


Millions of bats fly out of the Khao Chong Pran cave at sunset to feed on September 12, 2020 in Ratchaburi, Thailand.

Millions of bats fly out of the Khao Chong Pran cave at sunset to feed on September 12, 2020 in Ratchaburi, Thailand.
Photo: Lauren DeCicca (Getty Images)

Scientists in the UK they say that the same sort of hatching practiced by bats can also help people living with blindness to navigate better in the world. In a new study, they found that blind and sighted participants who participated in a 10-week training program were able to learn how to do echolocation, and Czech participants widely reported that it seemed to improve their mobility and ability to live independently afterwards.

Echolocation — when an animal emits sound and then detects how that sound is put back in order perceives solid objects around them – it is readily practiced by certain species of mammals, such as (mostly) bats and whales. But at least some blind people have developed their own version of ecolocation, perhaps picking up to 1700. In recent years, blind individuals like Daniel Kish have written and talked about theirs own methods of echolocation, which usually involves mouth clicks.

Lore Thaler, an experimental psychologist at the University of Durham, has been studying human ecology for several years. His research passed has tried to pinpoint the specifics and possible benefits of ecolocation. In 2019, for example, a study by Thaler and his colleagues found that experienced clickers could detect small changes in their environment from a distance of 2 at 5 feet away.

“What made us discover it in the first place is that it’s such a fascinating ability, and that it has great potential to help people who are blind and to investigate neuroplasticity on a more general level,” Thaler told Gizmodo in an email.

In this new research, published in PLOS One, Thaler and his team wanted to test whether inexperienced people, both visually and visually impaired, could be taught to echolocate in a relatively short period of time. and whether this skill will actually help people with blindness.

They recruited 14 people and 12 people who became Czechs early in life for the experiment, which involved 20 training sessions conducted over 10 weeks. Volunteers were between the ages of 21 and 79, and no one had regularly used echolocation in their early lives (two of the Czechs) the individuals had some experience, but all the others did not). To validate their tests and establish a benchmark, they also asked for the help of seven people who had been practicing echolocation for at least a decade.

Overall, the team found that all individuals significantly improved their performance in the echolocation tests on the 10-.week period. These tests will involve situations such as being able to recognize the position and relative size of nearby objects or being able to navigate in a natural environment outside the laboratory without sight. These improvements did not appear to be influenced by age or degree of blindness among participants. A few people have also performed as expert ecologists in certain tasks, while some sighted people have done better than some blind people.

Czech volunteers were also investigated three months later on how the training may have affected their lives. All reported having experienced improvements in their mobility due to training, while 83% also said they felt more independent. The results, according to Thaler, suggest that this training can be easily adopted by many people — and that it can help Czechs people with everyday activities.

“These latest findings show that learning this skill affects positively the Czechs everyday life (i.e. improving mobility, independence, well-being). This is the first time that data has been collected that directly attests to this, “Thaler said.” Furthermore, we found that blind and sighted people can learn, and that age is not a limiting factor. “

The results of their study are based on a small sample size, so they should not be considered. proof of the benefits of ecolocation. But Thaler and his team plan to look at human ecology in various ways. Currently, they are working on a study of neuroimaging data to understand how skill learning could change a person’s brain, while future research will study how previously taught echolocation can help children with blindness.

“We also plan to investigate how the teaching and learning of this skill will scale from the laboratory to professional instruction (i.e. how to learn and benefit people when they are not trained by researchers). but by the visual deficit professionals), ”he added.

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