Decoding the direction of auditory motion in blind humans

Thomas Wolbers, Pavel Zahorik, Nicholas A Giudice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accurate processing of nonvisual stimuli is fundamental to humans with visual impairments. In this population, moving sounds activate an occipito-temporal region thought to encompass the equivalent of monkey area MT+, but it remains unclear whether the signal carries information beyond the mere presence of motion. To address this important question, we tested whether the processing in this region retains functional properties that are critical for accurate motion processing and that are well established in the visual modality. Specifically, we focussed on the property of 'directional selectivity', because MT+ neurons in non-human primates fire preferentially to specific directions of visual motion. Recent neuroimaging studies have revealed similar properties in sighted humans by successfully decoding different directions of visual motion from fMRI activation patterns. Here we used fMRI and multivariate pattern classification to demonstrate that the direction in which a sound is moving can be reliably decoded from dorsal occipito-temporal activation in the blind. We also show that classification performance is at chance (i) in a control region in posterior parietal cortex and (ii) when motion information is removed and subjects only hear a sequence of static sounds presented at the same start and end positions. These findings reveal that information about the direction of auditory motion is present in dorsal occipito-temporal responses of blind humans. As such, this area, which appears consistent with the hMT+ complex in the sighted, provides crucial information for the generation of a veridical percept of moving non-visual stimuli.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-7
Number of pages7
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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