Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Stimulus uncertainty affects perception in human echolocation: Timing, level, and spectrum

Norman, Liam J.; Thaler, Lore

Stimulus uncertainty affects perception in human echolocation: Timing, level, and spectrum Thumbnail



The human brain may use recent sensory experience to create sensory templates that are then compared to incoming sensory input, that is, “knowing what to listen for.” This can lead to greater perceptual sensitivity, as long as the relevant properties of the target stimulus can be reliably estimated from past sensory experiences. Echolocation is an auditory skill probably best understood in bats, but humans can also echolocate. Here we investigated for the first time whether echolocation in humans involves the use of sensory templates derived from recent sensory experiences. Our results showed that when there was certainty in the acoustic properties of the echo relative to the emission, either in temporal onset, spectral content or level, people detected the echo more accurately than when there was uncertainty. In addition, we found that people were more accurate when the emission’s spectral content was certain but, surprisingly, not when either its level or temporal onset was certain. Importantly, the lack of an effect of temporal onset of the emission is counter to that found previously for tasks using nonecholocation sounds, suggesting that the underlying mechanisms might be different for echolocation and nonecholocation sounds. Importantly, the effects of stimulus certainty were no different for people with and without experience in echolocation, suggesting that stimulus-specific sensory templates can be used in a skill that people have never used before. From an applied perspective our results suggest that echolocation instruction should encourage users to make clicks that are similar to one another in their spectral content.


Norman, L. J., & Thaler, L. (2020). Stimulus uncertainty affects perception in human echolocation: Timing, level, and spectrum. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149(12), 2314-2331.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 9, 2020
Online Publication Date Apr 23, 2020
Publication Date 2020
Deposit Date Apr 24, 2020
Publicly Available Date Apr 26, 2020
Journal Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Print ISSN 0096-3445
Electronic ISSN 0096-3445
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 149
Issue 12
Pages 2314-2331


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (1.5 Mb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
Advance online version This article has been published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright for this article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American Psychological Association the exclusive right to publish the article and identify itself as the original publisher.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations