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Researchers have found a link between sight and sound that could improve awareness of neurological disorders.

October 19, 2000

An intricate link has been found between the perception of sound and sight, a report in the 19 October Nature implies. Scientists at the University of California discovered that when attention is drawn to a sound an individual's ability to see is also enhanced.

The authors hope that this discovery may help understanding of how the brain processes information about its surroundings, and ultimately lead to better treatments for neurological disorders such as attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia. Professor Steven Hillyard, Professor of Neurosciences, commented: "Our results suggest that you will see an object or event more clearly if it makes a sound before you see it." Thirty-three volunteers were asked to indicate whether they could see a dim, obscured light appear soon after a sound was presented. The sound and light appeared either on the same side or on opposite sides. After using signal detection theory to dismiss guesses, the researchers found the light was detected more accurately when it appeared on the same side as the sound.

Dr John J McDonald, first author, explained that the study confirms existing research that "the brain integrates information received from multiple stimuli in the environment" while ignoring nonessential information. He pointed out that his results reveal a process by which we can selectively pay attention to events that occur in different modalities. "In this study, we found that paying attention to a sudden sound enhances our ability to see visual stimuli that appear at the same location." Dr McDonald concluded that learning how healthy individuals perceive surrounding multiple stimuli, could provide data to make comparisons with, and help understand abnormal conditions such as attention deficit disorder.

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