Sharp Bilateral Hearing Crucial for Echolocation Keen high-frequency hearing in both ears may be required for people to use echoes to locate silent objects without moving their heads, suggests research from the University of Southampton’s Institute of Sound & Vibration Research (ISVR). The institute showed in a 2013 study that some blind and sighted humans can ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   August 01, 2015
Sharp Bilateral Hearing Crucial for Echolocation
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Hearing & Speech Perception / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   August 01, 2015
Sharp Bilateral Hearing Crucial for Echolocation
The ASHA Leader, August 2015, Vol. 20, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.20082015.16
The ASHA Leader, August 2015, Vol. 20, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.20082015.16
Keen high-frequency hearing in both ears may be required for people to use echoes to locate silent objects without moving their heads, suggests research from the University of Southampton’s Institute of Sound & Vibration Research (ISVR).
The institute showed in a 2013 study that some blind and sighted humans can use echolocation, as bats and dolphins do. Its new findings, published in Hearing Research, add a new layer to the concept: the importance of bilateral high-frequency hearing.
“We know that hearing echoes is very important in daily life for some blind people. Hearing loss, such as [that] associated with getting older, usually reduces hearing at high frequencies in both ears,” says lead author Daniel Rowan. “Some people can develop deafness in one ear. We wanted to get some insight into how much those particular forms of hearing loss might affect users of echoes to locate objects; our results suggest they would struggle.”

“We know that hearing echoes is very important in daily life for some blind people.”

Using ISVR’s own “virtual auditory space” technique, created in its ultra-quiet anechoic chamber and reproduced in this study in special earphones, the researchers tested both sighted and blind participants on their ability to locate an object using only echoes. People successfully determined the object’s location when they could use both high-frequency-hearing ears, but were not able to complete the task when the researchers manipulated high-frequency hearing loss and single-sided deafness.
“Hearing aid services tend to focus on how well a person can hear speech,” says Rowan, whose team is now looking into echolocation using head movement. “Our research indicates that those services also need to take into account whether someone needs to hear echoes in their daily life. For example, they might need hearing aids in both ears, despite the emerging trend in some parts of the country to only fit one.”
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August 2015
Volume 20, Issue 8