Cross-modal correspondence enhances elevation localization in visual-to-auditory sensory substitution


Journal Article


Bordeau, C., Scalvini, F., Migniot, C., Dubois, J., Ambard, M.




Cross-modal correspondence enhances elevation localization in visual-to-auditory sensory substitution

Journal / book / conference

Frontiers in Psychology


Introduction: Visual-to-auditory sensory substitution devices are assistive devices for the blind that convert visual images into auditory images (or soundscapes) by mapping visual features with acoustic cues. To convey spatial information with sounds, several sensory substitution devices use a Virtual Acoustic Space (VAS) using Head Related Transfer Functions (HRTFs) to synthesize natural acoustic cues used for sound localization. However, the perception of the elevation is known to be inaccurate with generic spatialization since it is based on notches in the audio spectrum that are specific to each individual. Another method used to convey elevation information is based on the audiovisual cross-modal correspondence between pitch and visual elevation. The main drawback of this second method is caused by the limitation of the ability to perceive elevation through HRTFs due to the spectral narrowband of the sounds.

Method: In this study we compared the early ability to localize objects with a visual-to-auditory sensory substitution device where elevation is either conveyed using a spatialization-based only method (Noise encoding) or using pitch-based methods with different spectral complexities (Monotonic and Harmonic encodings). Thirty eight blindfolded participants had to localize a virtual target using soundscapes before and after having been familiarized with the visual-to-auditory encodings.

Results: Participants were more accurate to localize elevation with pitch-based encodings than with the spatialization-based only method. Only slight differences in azimuth localization performance were found between the encodings.

Discussion: This study suggests the intuitiveness of a pitch-based encoding with a facilitation effect of the cross-modal correspondence when a non-individualized sound spatialization is used.




Virtual Acoustic Space, spatial hearing, sound spatialization, image-to-sound conversion, cross-modal correspondence, assistive technology, visual impairment, sound source localization

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