July 8, 2021 -- Humans have a sixth sense that most of us aren't using, but could learn to.
Some people who are blind have already figured out how to tap into this, in much the same way dolphins navigate underwater and bats find their way in pitch darkness. And it is only a matter of time before others figure out how to do this too, scientists say.
Our five senses -- sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch -- help us understand and perceive the world around us. But according to two recent studies, people can tap into a so-called sixth sense and learn how to navigate through darkness when our eyesight can't break through.
Dolphins and some other animals use a biologic sonar, called echolocation, to get around even when dim, murky waters prevent them from seeing. Bats seem to sense sound as it bounces off obstacles as they fly unhindered through dark spaces.
"People passively use echolocation all the time," according to Lore Thaler, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.
When a person walks into a room and intuitively understands whether the space is small or large and whether or not it contains furniture, they are probably basing their intuition on echoes and reverberations, Thaler explains.
People who are blind sometimes tap a cane or lightly stomp a foot to help them get a sense of the space around them. Humans can also echolocate by snapping fingers or making clicking sounds with their mouths, scientists say, because the sound waves it creates bounce off nearby objects.
People with little or no training can learn to use those echoes to determine the shape, size, or texture of an object.
This is not some farfetched superpower. Active sensing is something many people have already mastered, says Daniel Kish, founder and president of World Access for the Blind. The California-based nonprofit helps train people who are unable to see to use echolocation, among other tactics, to navigate the world around them.
Picking Up a Superpower
In a new study, Thaler and her colleagues tested whether people can learn to echolocate.