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Stepping on obstacles with a sensory substitution device on the lower leg: Practice without vision is more beneficial than practice with vision

AuthorsLobo, Lorena; Travieso, David; Barrientos, Antonio ; Jacobs, David M.
Issue Date2014
PublisherPublic Library of Science
CitationPLoS ONE 9(6):e98801 (2014)
AbstractPractice is essential for an adapted use of sensory substitution devices. Understanding the learning process is therefore a fundamental issue in this field of research. This study presents a novel sensory substitution device worn on the lower leg and uses the device to study learning. The device includes 32 vibrotactile actuators that each vibrate as a function of the distance to the nearest surface in a particular direction. Participants wearing the device were asked to approach an object and to step on the object. Two 144-trial practice conditions were compared in a pretest-practice-posttest design. Participants in the first condition practiced with vibrotactile stimulation while blindfolded. Participants in the second condition practiced with vibrotactile stimulation along with normal vision. Performance was relatively successful, both types of practice led to improvements in performance, and practice without vision led to a larger reduction in the number of errors than practice with vision. These results indicate that distance-based sensory substitution is promising in addition to the more traditional light-intensity-based sensory substitution and that providing appropriate sensorimotor couplings is more important than applying the stimulation to highly sensitive body parts. The observed advantage of practice without vision over practice with vision is interpreted in terms of the guidance hypothesis of feedback and learning. © 2014 Lobo et al.
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