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Human echolocation: The relative importance of pitch and loudness
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2008 (English)In: Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Nordic Ergonomics Society, 2008Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

A sound heard in the presence of a reflected object will be both louder and have a slightly different timbre (“repetition pitch”) than the same sound heard with no reflection. Thus, pitch and loudness are two sources of information that visually handicapped people may use for echolocation. In real life, the two sources of information are confounded, because perceived loudness and repetition pitch both diminishes with distance to the reflecting object. The purpose of the present experiment was to disentangle the influence of each of these sources on human echolocation. Experimental sounds were obtained from binaural recordings with an artificial head in an ordinary room. White noise (500 ms) was emitted from a loudspeaker on the chest of the artificial head. A reflecting aluminum sheet (0.5 m diameter) was located at 1, 2 and 3 m distance to the artificial head. By digital manipulation, the loudness information or the pitch information of the recorded sounds were eliminated, resulting in three kinds of sounds: (1) sounds containing both pitch and loudness information, (2) sounds with only pitch information, and (3) sounds with only loudness information. These three kinds of sounds were presented to 14 sighted students. The psychophysical method of 2-alternative-forced-choice with feedback was used, with 56 trials for each person at each condition. Each trial presented one sound recorded with, and one without, reflecting object. The task was to detect which of the two sounds that was recorded in the presence of the reflecting object. All participants could use echolocation for all three kinds of sounds at the distance of 1m, but performed close to chance with all sounds at 3 m. At the 2 m condition, sounds with only pitch information gave a higher performance compared to sounds with only loudness information, for which the performance was close to random. Thus, pitch alone may provide sufficient information for echolocation at these distances. Audiometric tests were conducted, with focus on the pure tone threshold average and the absolute difference between the ears. The results will have a bearing on the construction of orientation and mobility aids for the visually handicapped.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
echo location, repetition pitch, loudness, binaural recording
National Category
Psychology Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-15531OAI: diva2:182051
Available from: 2008-12-05 Created: 2008-12-05Bibliographically approved

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