How blind people process the sound of movement

Photo credit: Yan Krukau

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This fascinating report on The Conversation website by two researchers at the University of Washington discusses their recent research that studies how blind people process the sound of movement. Professor Ione Fine and research scientist Woon Ju Park became curious about this question when they noticed a blind woman crossing a busy intersection with confidence. Please don’t try that with your eyes closed! 

“For sighted people, crossing a busy street based on hearing alone is an impossible task, because their brains are used to relying on vision to understand where things are. As anyone who has tried to find a beeping cellphone that’s fallen behind the sofa knows, sighted people have a very limited ability to pinpoint the location or movement of objects based on auditory information,” researchers wrote. 

This ingenious research, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that both blind and sighted people inferred movement from the start and stop of sounds. But blind research subjects were affected only by noise bursts occurring at the same location in space and moments in time as the onset and offset of the moving sound. They were sensitive to the beginning and end of the actual auditory motion, and responded less to irrelevant noise bursts.

Fine and Park don’t comment on whether noise pollution affects the ability of blind people to navigate the world safely, but I can’t imagine that it helps. A quieter world will be a better and healthier world for us all.

Share this article:

Article Categories

Search Articles