Authors: Kristjánsson Árni, Moldoveanu Alin, Jóhannesson Ómar, Balan Oana, Spagnol Simone, Valgeirsdóttir Vigdís Vala and Unnthorsson Rúnar
in: Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, vol. 34, no. 5, pp. 769-787, 2016
Abstract: An exciting possibility for compensating for loss of sensory function is to augment deficient senses by conveying missing information through an intact sense. Here we present an overview of techniques that have been developed for sensory substitution (SS) for the blind, through both touch and audition, with special emphasis on the importance of training for the use of such devices, while highlighting potential pitfalls in their design. One example of a pitfall is how conveying extra information about the environment risks sensory overload. Related to this, the limits of attentional capacity make it important to focus on key information and avoid redundancies. Also, differences in processing characteristics and bandwidth between sensory systems severely constrain the information that can be conveyed. Furthermore, perception is a continuous process and does not involve a snapshot of the environment. Design of sensory substitution devices therefore requires assessment of the nature of spatiotemporal continuity for the different senses. Basic psychophysical and neuroscientific research into representations of the environment and the most effective ways of conveying information should lead to better design of sensory substitution systems. Sensory substitution devices should emphasize usability, and should not interfere with other inter- or intramodal perceptual function. Devices should be task-focused since in many cases it may be impractical to convey too many aspects of the environment. Evidence for multisensory integration in the representation of the environment suggests that researchers should not limit themselves to a single modality in their design. Finally, we recommend active training on devices, especially since it allows for externalization, where proximal sensory stimulation is attributed to a distinct exterior object.
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