Touch and vision vital for sight

New research shows that stimulating multiple senses could be key to improving the sight of people receiving visual prosthetics.

Researchers at Monash University Gippsland hope to improve the sight of people receiving visual prosthetics, such as bionic eyes, by proving the importance of both 'touch' and 'vision' to how we see.

Traralgon-based academic George Van Doorn, along with colleagues Barry Richardson and Dianne Wuillemin, spent two years studying the theory that combining the way an object feels with how it looks, could improve the effectiveness of visual prosthetics.

They suggest that using technologies that combine the stimulation of both senses at once may allow the brain to more effectively receive and interpret electrical input from a prosthetic; helping a person learn to 'see' much quicker than if just one sense is focused on.

An article outlining their theory was published in the International Journal of Autonomous and Adaptive Communications Systems.

But while Dr Van Doorn, a lecturer in psychological studies and specialist in '', hoped the study would lead to a shift in thought, he said this was proving more difficult than anticipated.

"Most people still believe using information from only one sense will be good enough (when developing visual prosthetics), so they don't bother combining the two ( and touch). While this might be true, we believe success is more likely with more sources of sensory information," Dr Van Doorn said.

"I wouldn't have thought it was a revolutionary idea, but it appears to be, because we've certainly hit a wall in taking it further. I think many put it in the 'too hard' basket, which is a shame given the potential."

Dr Van Doorn said it made sense that if touch was paired with the low-quality people with visual prosthetics receive, it could help them see, because most of what we perceive is based on information from multiple senses.

"If you're a person who's never seen anything, and you get a bionic eye, basically what you can see initially is just little spots of light or dark. Because these people have never had vision, interpreting this visual information is extremely difficult, which is why we're suggesting that touch be used in conjunction with vision, in the hope that this will help the recipient of a bionic eye learn to "see" faster."

"For example; you could have one camera stimulating the retina or cortex of the eye, and another stimulating the tongue at the same time so people could get information from both senses at once. Then, if they miss some of the information provided by one sense, they may get it from the other. This adds to the sent to the brain."

Dr Van Doorn said despite the difficulties the researchers were facing in taking their study further, they were still hopeful of receiving grant money and teaming up with an Australian group involved in bionic eye development to undertake practical work to test their theory.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Ancient brain' helps us avoid accidents

Oct 28, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Scientists at Australia's Vision Centre (VC) have found a group of rare cells in the human brain that recognise edges – helping us to avoid accidents and recognise everything we use or see in daily life.

Stimulating the brain through touch

Jul 19, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- When learning to master complex movements such as those required in surgery, is being physically guided by an expert more effective than learning through trial and error?

'Seeing' faces through touch

Sep 04, 2013

Our sense of touch can contribute to our ability to perceive faces, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Recommended for you

Mothers don't speak so clearly to their babies

Jan 23, 2015

People have a distinctive way of talking to babies and small children: We speak more slowly, using a sing-song voice, and tend to use cutesy words like "tummy". While we might be inclined to think that we ...

Explainer: What is sexual fluidity?

Jan 23, 2015

Sexual preferences are not set in stone and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation the individual is in. This has been described as sexual fluidity. For example, if someone identifies as heterosexual but th ...

Lucky charms: When are superstitions used most?

Jan 23, 2015

It might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, many people turn to a superstition or lucky charm to help achieve a goal. For instance, you used a specific avatar to win a game and now you see ...

Low-income boys fare worse in wealth's shadow

Jan 22, 2015

Low-income boys fare worse, not better, when they grow up alongside more affluent neighbors, according to new findings from Duke University. In fact, the greater the economic gap between the boys and their neighbors, the ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.