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

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Color of judo uniform has no effect on winning

February 22, 2018
New research on competitive judo data finds a winning bias for the athlete who is first called, regardless of the colour of their uniform. This unique study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, puts to rest the debate on ...

Infants are able to learn abstract rules visually

February 22, 2018
Three-month-old babies cannot sit up or roll over, yet they are already capable of learning patterns from simply looking at the world around them, according to a recent Northwestern University study published in PLOS One.

Antidepressants are more effective than placebo at treating acute depression in adults, concludes study

February 22, 2018
Meta-analysis of 522 trials includes the largest amount of unpublished data to date, and finds that antidepressants are more effective than placebo for short-term treatment of acute depression in adults.

How people cope with difficult life events fuels development of wisdom, study finds

February 21, 2018
How a person responds to a difficult life event such as a death or divorce helps shape the development of their wisdom over time, a new study from Oregon State University suggests.

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Researchers uncover novel mechanism behind schizophrenia

February 21, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine scientist has uncovered a novel mechanism in which a protein—neuregulin 3—controls how key neurotransmitters are released ...

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kasen
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.
garymj
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.
JamesThomas
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.
kuro
1 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2010
this "psychology" thing is going the way of the chinese mmedicine fast.

/yes i am not blinking
Alexantrite
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.

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.