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Sensory substitution information informs locomotor adjustments when walking through apertures

  • Kolarik, Andrew J.1, 2
  • Timmis, Matthew A.2, 3
  • Cirstea, Silvia2, 4
  • Pardhan, Shahina2
  • 1 University of Cambridge, Department of Psychology, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EB, UK , Cambridge (United Kingdom)
  • 2 Anglia Ruskin University, Vision and Eye Research Unit (VERU), Postgraduate Medical Institute, Eastings 204, East Road, Cambridge, CB1 1PT, UK , Cambridge (United Kingdom)
  • 3 Anglia Ruskin University, Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Group, Life Sciences, East Road, Cambridge, CB1 1PT, UK , Cambridge (United Kingdom)
  • 4 Anglia Ruskin University, Department of Computing and Technology, East Road, Cambridge, CB1 1PT, UK , Cambridge (United Kingdom)
Published Article
Experimental Brain Research
Publication Date
Dec 27, 2013
DOI: 10.1007/s00221-013-3809-5
Springer Nature


The study assessed the ability of the central nervous system (CNS) to use echoic information from sensory substitution devices (SSDs) to rotate the shoulders and safely pass through apertures of different width. Ten visually normal participants performed this task with full vision, or blindfolded using an SSD to obtain information regarding the width of an aperture created by two parallel panels. Two SSDs were tested. Participants passed through apertures of +0, +18, +35 and +70 % of measured body width. Kinematic indices recorded movement time, shoulder rotation, average walking velocity across the trial, peak walking velocities before crossing, after crossing and throughout a whole trial. Analyses showed participants used SSD information to regulate shoulder rotation, with greater rotation associated with narrower apertures. Rotations made using an SSD were greater compared to vision, movement times were longer, average walking velocity lower and peak velocities before crossing, after crossing and throughout the whole trial were smaller, suggesting greater caution. Collisions sometimes occurred using an SSD but not using vision, indicating that substituted information did not always result in accurate shoulder rotation judgements. No differences were found between the two SSDs. The data suggest that spatial information, provided by sensory substitution, allows the relative position of aperture panels to be internally represented, enabling the CNS to modify shoulder rotation according to aperture width. Increased buffer space indicated by greater rotations (up to approximately 35 % for apertures of +18 % of body width) suggests that spatial representations are not as accurate as offered by full vision.

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