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Playing by Ear

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Science  30 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6051, pp. 1816-1818
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6051.1816

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After dodging monsters and hunting jewels in the Audio-Based Environment Simulator (AbES, pronounced "abbess") game, blind gamers learn its layout so well that they can quickly navigate themselves to any room in the real building the game's layout is based on. Those are encouraging results as indoor navigation, where GPS doesn't work and guide dogs aren't always welcome, is a special challenge for many blind people. The goal is for blind gamers to learn to develop maps that the sighted build subconsciously, so that when deciding to go to a place, the directions will just "click in your mind." But researchers hope to do more than use AbES to help the blind. They have begun imaging the brain activity of both blind and sighted people as they play the game. The comparison is meant to reveal how the navigation techniques used by blind and sighted brains differ.