Sensory substitution devices and behavioural transference: a commentary on recent work from the lab of Amir Amedi

In Fiona Macpherson & Fabian Dorsch (eds.), Sensory Substitution and Augmentation. Series: Proceedings of the British Academy. pp. 122-129 (2018)
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Abstract

Sensory substitution devices (SSDs) are most familiar from their use with subjects who are deficient in a target modality (e.g. congenitally blind subjects), but there is no doubt that the use and potential value of SSDs extend to persons without such deficits. Recent work by Amedi and his team (in particular Levy-Tzedek et al. 2012) has begun to explore this. Their idea is that SSDs may facilitate behavioural transference (BT) across sense modalities. In this case, a motor skill learned through visual perception might be subsequently employed in response to auditory perception, using an SSD as a mediator. They infer from the existence of such BT that the learned skill is amodally represented. After a brief overview I identify ways to more fully test for BT within this experimental paradigm and argue that their conclusion about amodal representation is premature. Additionally, I argue that their preferred SSD (Eyemusic) is of limited value for the project. While my remarks are critical, my intention is to be constructive, particularly in light of the fact that Levy-Tzedek et al. (2012), is, I believe, the first output from Amedi's lab concerning this line of research.

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Derek H. Brown
University of Glasgow

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