People with severe vision loss can less accurately judge the distance of nearby sounds, potentially putting them more at risk of injury, according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University's Vision and Eye Research Institute (VERI) tested participants with different levels of vision loss, presenting them with speech, music and noise stimuli, and different levels of reverberation (echoes).
Participants were asked to judge the distance of the different sounds, as well as the size of the room.
People with severe visual loss judged closer sounds more inaccurately compared to those whose vision loss is less severe, who in turn, were less accurate when compared to people with normal sight.
For more distant sounds, people with severe visual loss judged these to be twice as far away when compared to normal sighted individuals. Participants with severe sight loss also judged the rooms to be three times larger than the control group of normal sighted individuals.
Professor Shahina Pardhan, Director of VERI, said: "Vision loss means people rely more on their hearing for awareness and safety, communication and interaction, but it was not known how hearing is affected by the severity of partial vision loss.
"The results demonstrate that full blindness is not necessary for judged auditory distance and room size to be affected by visual loss, and that changes in auditory perception are systematic and related to the severity of visual loss.
"Our research found that more severely visually impaired people were less accurate in judging the distance of closer sounds, which may make it harder for them in real-life situations, for example such as crossing busy streets."
Andrew J. Kolarik, Rajiv Raman, Brian C. J. Moore, Silvia Cirstea, Sarika Gopalakrishnan, Shahina Pardhan. The accuracy of auditory spatial judgments in the visually impaired is dependent on sound source distance. Scientific Reports, 2020; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-64306-8