We all know that some animals, like bats and dolphins, use echolocation to navigate and find food in the dark. Scientists discovered that humans also have this ability, although we still need a little practice.
Echolocation occurs when an animal emits a sound that, when hitting a surface, produces an echo that allows the distance to the object and its size to be calculated. A new study, carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Durham, in the United Kingdom, shows that we also have this sixth sense.
During the experiment, 26 volunteers between the ages of 21 and 79 - both blind and visually impaired trained for 10 weeks to learn how to navigate virtual mazes made up of U- and T-shaped intersections and zigzag corridors. They also had to identify the size and location of different objects by clicking their tongues.
At the end of the study, the participants put their navigation skills back to the test, already in another maze, and the results were surprising: they hit objects and walls less frequently than in the first days of the experiment.
Several weeks later, the participants took part in a survey in which they recounted how the training influenced their daily lives. Most of the volunteers both blind and sighted stated that it helped them significantly improve their mobility and overall independence.
Interestingly, some sighted people showed even better results than the visually impaired. The age of the participants also did not affect their ability to learn the unusual technique.
The authors of the study, published in the academic journal PLOS ONE, believe that this method could contribute to the rehabilitation of those who have already lost or are only beginning to lose their sight.
We are very excited and believe that it would make sense to provide information and teach click-based echolocation in people who still have good eye health but are expected to lose their sight later due to a progressive degenerative condition, explains the lead author of the study, Lore Thaler.
The scientists emphasize that not all people will agree to use the technique in public places, as there is still a stigma associated with the use of this sound in social settings.