Harnessing Our Sensory Superpowers

March 12, 2010, University of California, Riverside

(PhysOrg.com) -- New research in perceptual psychology and brain science is revealing that our senses pick up information about the world that we thought was only available to other species, Lawrence Rosenblum, UCR professor of psychology, writes in a new book.

Blind mountain bikers use echolocation to hear rocks in the trail. A connoisseur sniffs out the world’s most expensive cup of coffee. An artist whose sight disappeared as a young man paints and chooses his colors by touch.

New research in perceptual psychology and brain science is revealing that our senses pick up information about the world that we thought was only available to other species, Lawrence Rosenblum, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, writes in a new book, “See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses” (Norton, 2010), published this month.

“We have hidden sensory channels we’re using all the time. This enables us to perceive things, often without awareness of where we get the information,” Rosenblum says. His 350-page book is aimed at getting people interested in new research on the senses. He uses numerous examples of people who have strengthened sight, hearing, smell, taste or touch - such as blind baseball players and a sommelier who can taste the vintage of a fine wine - to explain how the brain uses multiple senses and the subtlest information to perceive the world, and suggests ways to further develop those senses.

Brain-imaging and other tools have enabled researchers in the last decade to discover that the human brain is capable of changing its structure and organization - a process called neuroplasticity - as it is influenced by experience.

“It turns out that vacant areas of the are co-opted, and this can happen if you’re blindfolded for only 90 minutes,” he says. Removing sight as a sensory power can quickly enhance the senses of hearing, and even smell, for example.

Still, even without sensory loss, we already accomplish many of these exotic sensory skills. “We all have an onboard sonar system and a type of absolute pitch; and we all can perceive speech from seeing and even touching faces,” Rosenblum writes in “See What I’m Saying.” “What’s more, we engage many of these skills all day long. What largely distinguishes the expert perceiver from the rest of us is the same thing that gets us from here to Carnegie Hall: practice.”

Rosenblum has spent two decades studying multisensory perception, lipreading and hearing. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. He is internationally known for his research on risks the inaudibility of hybrid cars pose for blind and other pedestrians.

More information: www.psychology.ucr.edu/faculty … rosenblum/index.html

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3 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2010
Neuroplasticity and the brain filling in sensory blanks are not the same as entirely different sensory capacities. Adaptive as our minds are, we're never going to mimic a snake's IR gland, or a shark's electroreception.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2010
Humans don't yet know everything, A "new" sensory organ was recently described in fish -the midline- I think its called, and I've heard about the military enhancing IR vision in soldiers, as well as some folks being born with IR vision. We will undoubtedly keep discovering how little we know.
not rated yet Mar 13, 2010
Interesting how the first two comments were negative.

In regards the article, I found it fascinating to learn that the body has yet untapped sensory talents that can assist us in our practical day to day lives. It certainly does look like a field that deserves more research.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2010
this "psychology" thing is going the way of the chinese mmedicine fast.

/yes i am not blinking
not rated yet Mar 14, 2010
One rarely percieves of all the future applications that current research uncovers, regardless of which discipline is. The only way we can fully explore our world, our neighbors and society with any ability to apply what we find is first to study individuals to see what we are capable of. Then one can extrapolate applications and benefits.

Yes, Psychology is a relatively young science but provides valuable insight into human behavior.

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