Several studies have shown that blind humans can gather spatial information through echolocation. However, when localizing sound sources, the precedence effect suppresses spatial information of echoes, and thereby conflicts with effective echolocation. This study investigates the interaction of echolocation and echo suppression in terms of discrimination suppression in virtual acoustic space. In the ‘Listening’ experiment, sighted subjects discriminated between positions of a single sound source, the leading or the lagging of two sources, respectively. In the ‘Echolocation’ experiment, the sources were replaced by reflectors. Here, the same subjects evaluated echoes generated in real time from self-produced vocalizations and thereby discriminated between positions of a single reflector, the leading or the lagging of two reflectors, respectively. Two key results were observed. First, sighted subjects can learn to discriminate positions of reflective surfaces echo-acoustically with accuracy comparable to sound source discrimination. Second, in the Listening experiment, the presence of the leading source affected discrimination of lagging sources much more than vice versa. In the Echolocation experiment, however, the presence of both the lead and the lag strongly affected discrimination. These data show that the classically described asymmetry in the perception of leading and lagging sounds is strongly diminished in an echolocation task. Additional control experiments showed that the effect is owing to both the direct sound of the vocalization that precedes the echoes and owing to the fact that the subjects actively vocalize in the echolocation task.
- Received June 11, 2013.
- Accepted August 5, 2013.
- © 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.