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Human Echolocation

It is well known that animals like bats and dolphins echolocate to navigate their environment. It is less well-known, however, that humans can echolocate as well, for example by making clicks with their tongue and mouth and then listening for the click echoes. Echolocation is useful, in particular in low vision conditions, because it provides spatial information about the environment.

In my lab we use behavioural experiments and fMRI to investigate click-based echolocation. We investigate human echolocation in its own right (i.e. how people do it, how it works, how it compares to certain types of animal echolocation, etc.), and we also use echolocation as a paradigm to understand general mechanisms of human neuroplasticity (i.e. how the human brain changes as people learn new skills, or how the brain changes in response to sensory deprivation, such as vision loss). We also offer workshops in echolocation.

Thaler, L., Zhang, X., Antoniou, M., Kish, D. & Cowie, D. (2019). The flexible Action System: Click-based Echolocation may replace certain visual Functionality for adaptive Walking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, in Press.

Hornikx, M. (2019). Human Click-Based Echolocation of Distance: Superfine Acuity and Dynamic Clicking Behaviour. Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, DOI: 0.1007/s10162-019-00728-0 [link to free article]

Negen, J., Wen, L., Thaler, L. & Nardini, M. (2018). Bayes-Like Integration of a New Sensory Skill with Vision. Scientific Reports, 8: 16880. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-35046-7 [link to free article]

Norman, L., Thaler, L.(2018). Human echolocation for target detection is more accurate with emissions containing higher spectral frequencies, and this is explained by echo intensity. i-Perception, 9(3).DOI: 10.1177/2041669518776984 [link to free article]

Yu, X.L., Thaler, L., Baker, C.J., Smith, G.E., Zhao, L.S. (2018). Human echolocation: 2-D shape discrimination using features extracted from acoustic echoes. Electronic Letters. DOI: 10.1049/el.2018.0680 [download as pdf]

Thaler, L., De Vos, R., Kish, D., Antoniou, M., Baker, C., Hornikx, M. (2018). Human Echolocators adjust loudness and number of clicks for detection of reflectors at various azimuth angles. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Series B Biological Sciences. 285: 20172735. [link to free article]

Thaler, L & Foresteire, D. (2017). Visual sensory stimulation interferes with people’s ability to echolocate object size. Nature Scientific Reports. 7: 13069. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-12967-3. [link to free article]

Thaler, L., Reich, G.M., Zhang, X., Wang, D., Smith, G.E., Tao, Z., Abdullah, R., Cherniakov, M., Baker, C.J., Kish, D. & Antoniou, M. (2017). Mouth-Clicks used by Blind Human Echolocators – Signal Description and Model Based Signal Synthesis. PLoS Computational Biology, 13(8): e1005670. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005670. [link to free article]

Zhang, X., Reich, G., Antoniou, M., Cherniakov, M., Baker, C.J., Thaler, L., Kish, D., Smith, G.E. (2017). Human echolocation: Waveform Analysis of Tongue Clicks. Electronics Letters, doi: 10.1049/el.2017.0454. [download as pdf]

Norman, L. & Thaler, L. (2017). Human Echolocation – Spatial Resolution and Signal Properties.in Biologically Inspired Radar and Sonar: Lessons from Nature, Eds. Balleri, A., Griffiths, H., Baker, C. pages 209-227.

Thaler, L. & Goodale, M.A. (2016). Echolocation in People: An Overview. WIREs Cogn Sci, doi: 10.1002/wcs.1408. [download as pdf]

Thaler, L. & Castillo-Serrano, J.G. (2016). People's ability to detect objects using click-based echolocation: A direct comparison between mouth-clicks and clicks made by a loudspeaker. PLoS ONE, 11(5): e0154868. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154868.[link to free article]

Thaler, L. (2015) Using sound to get around - Discoveries in Human Echolocation. Observer, 28(10). [link to article]

Fiehler, K., Schütz, I., Meller, T. & Thaler, L. (2015) Neural correlates of human echolocation of path direction during walking. Multisensory Research, 28, 195-226.

Milne, J.L., Goodale, M.A., Arnott S.R., Kish, D. & Thaler, L. (2015) Parahippocampal cortex is involved in material processing through echolocation in blind echolocation experts. Vision Research, doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2014.07.004.

Milne, J.L., Anello, M., Goodale, M.A., & Thaler, L. (2014) A blind human expert echolocator shows size constancy for objects perceived by echoes. Neurocase, in Press. doi: 10.1080/13554794.2014.922994. [download as pdf]

Milne, J.L., Goodale, M.A., & Thaler, L. (2014) The role of head movements in the discrimination of 2-D shape by blind echolocation experts. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 76, 1828-1837. doi: 10.3758/s13414-014-0695-2. [download as pdf]

Thaler, L., Wilson, R.C. & Gee, B.K. (2014) Correlation between Vividness of Visual Imagery and Echolocation Ability in Sighted, Echo-Naive People. Experimental Brain Research, 232 (6), 1915-1925. doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-3883-3. [download as pdf]

Thaler, L., Milne, J.L., Arnott,S., Kish,D. & Goodale, M.A. (2014). Neural Correlates of Motion Processing through Echolocation, Source Hearing and Vision in Blind Echolocation Experts and Sighted Echolocation Novices. Journal of Neurophysiology, 111: 112:127.[download as pdf]

Thaler, L.(2013) Echolocation may have real-life advantages for blind people: an analysis of survey data. Frontiers in Integrative Physiology, 4:98. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00098.[link to free article]

Arnott,S.R., Thaler, L., Milne,J., Kish,D. & Goodale, M.A.(2013). Shape-specific activation of occipital cortex in an early blind echolocation expert. Neuropsychologia,51, 938-949.

Schlicht, T., Vetter, P., Thaler, L. & Moss, C. (2012). Wahrnehmung. In Handbuch Kognitionswissenschaft. Stephan, A. & Walter, S. Stuttgart: Metzler.

Thaler, L., Arnott, S.R. & Goodale, M. A. (2011) Neural correlates of natural human echolocation in early and late blind echolocation experts. PLoS ONE, 6(5): e20162. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020162.[link to free article]