Crazy experiment shows humans can learn to echolocate like bats

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When you think of echolocation, you probably think of bats or dolphins. But echolocation has also been used as a means of navigation for blind people. Despite the usefulness of this skill, few blind people have actually learned to use echolocation. Now, however, researchers say humans can learn echolocation in as little as 10 weeks. Which could make it a viable skill for people with visual impairments.

Humans can learn echolocation in just 10 weeks, experiment says

The researchers published an article with their findings in PLOS A. The researchers conducted the experiment using 12 participants who had all been diagnosed as legally blind at a young age. They also included 14 people who had no vision problems in the experiment. They then taught participants how to use echolocation during 20 training sessions.

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Each training session lasted about two to three hours, according to the researchers. As a result of the instruction, the researchers say that all blind and sighted participants learned echolocation and significantly improved in click echolocation.

They spent 10 weeks teaching participants to navigate virtual mazes, all with T-intersections, U-turns and even zigzags. At the end of the experiment, in the last two sessions, all participants showed a greater ability to use echolocation to navigate mazes, even the one they had not walked before.

Additionally, the researchers found that participants in the group performed equally well with people who had been using echolocation for years. As such, it appears humans can learn the skill effectively, even over a short period of time.

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The viability of echolocation

What makes learning echolocation so appealing? Well, for starters, we’ve already seen how effective it can be in the animal world. Bats, dolphins, whales, and some other creatures like seals depend on echolocation to navigate the world in different ways. And, if the skill can be taught to humans in a short time, it could be a new way for people with disabilities to get around.

Even if you remove people who have been diagnosed legally blind at a young age, echolocation has tremendous help it can offer to humans. As we age, our eyesight is just one of the senses that begins to dull. In doing so, it can become more difficult to navigate the world around us. However, if people learn to use echolocation, losing sight may not be as crippling to their basic navigation skills.

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Researchers have tested the viability of click echolocation in the past. However, this is the first time that the experiments have included people who are blind and of different ages. Now that we know that both blind and sighted people can learn echolocation, maybe we can find new ways to help people with low vision get around more easily.

The post Crazy experiment shows that humans can learn to echolocate as bats first appeared on BGR.

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