Partial visual loss disrupts the relationship between judged room size and sound source distance.
Visual spatial information plays an important role in calibrating auditory space. Blindness results in deficits in a number of auditory abilities, which have been explained in terms of the hypothesis that visual information is needed to calibrate audition. When judging the size of a novel room when only auditory cues are available, normally sighted participants may use the location of the farthest sound source to infer the nearest possible distance of the far wall. However, for people with partial visual loss (distinct from blindness in that some vision is present), such a strategy may not be reliable if vision is needed to calibrate auditory cues for distance. In the current study, participants were presented with sounds at different distances (ranging from 1.2 to 13.8 m) in a simulated reverberant (T60 = 700 ms) or anechoic room. Farthest distance judgments and room size judgments (volume and area) were obtained from blindfolded participants (18 normally sighted, 38 partially sighted) for speech, music, and noise stimuli. With sighted participants, the judged room volume and farthest sound source distance estimates were positively correlated (p < 0.05) for all conditions. Participants with visual losses showed no significant correlations for any of the conditions tested. A similar pattern of results was observed for the correlations between farthest distance and room floor area estimates. Results demonstrate that partial visual loss disrupts the relationship between judged room size and sound source distance that is shown by sighted participants.
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