Anyone can learn natural echolocation in just 10 weeks


Today it is no longer a secret that people are able to learn echolocation. All it takes is a tongue to make clicks and ears to catch echoes bouncing off objects. In 10 weeks, 12 blind and 14 sighted participants in the experiment learned to identify obstacles, their size and location using echolocation.

We used to attribute this ability to bats, owls and cetaceans. However, blind people also sometimes resort to echolocation to recognize obstacles – someone knocks with a cane, someone clicks his fingers, and someone makes sounds with his mouth. Despite all the usefulness of this skill, now few people own it. Sonar researchers from the University of Durham in the UK have proven that it’s all about the right workouts.

In 20 sessions of 2-3 hours, participants of different ages successfully mastered echolocation with tongue clicks. They learned to navigate mazes with dead ends, crossroads, and zigzags, determining the size and location of obstacles along the way. At the end, they fixed their skills in the labyrinth, in which they found themselves for the first time. Even in the new environment, there were much fewer clashes. The newly minted echolocators coped with the tasks almost as well as 7 experienced experts who have been using this method for many years. In tasks on understanding the shape and finding objects, the participants showed themselves on an equal footing with them.

In old age, people’s eyesight and hearing become dull. However, this is not a limitation – the blind at the age of 79 also managed to master echolocation by following the training scheme. Advanced age did not cause more clashes. The younger students sometimes got through the maze faster, but in fact the learning was good for all the participants. Three months after the experiment, blind participants reported that echolocation increased their mobility. 10 out of 12 confidently stated that this skill gave them greater independence.

Source – PLOS One

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