Scientists at The Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University have discovered that our brains have the ability to determine the shape of an object simply by processing specially-coded sounds, without any visual or tactile input.
The research provides important new possibilities for aiding those who are blind or with impaired vision.
"The fact that a property of sound such as frequency can be used to convey shape information suggests that as long as the spatial relation is coded in a systematic way, shape can be preserved and made accessible - even if the medium via which space is coded is not spatial in its physical nature," said Jung-Kyong Kim, student in Dr. Robert Zatorre's lab at The Neuro.
This means that our brains can be trained to recognize shapes represented by sound and the hope is that those with impaired vision could be trained to use this as a tool.
Following training, the study individuals were able to match auditory input to tactually discerned shapes and showed generalization to new auditory-tactile or sound-touch pairings.
Neuroimaging studies have identified brain areas that integrate information coming from different senses - combining input from across the senses to create a complete and comprehensive picture.