Science  14 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6176, pp. 1184
  1. Sight by Sound Upturns Brain Model

    A computer program that uses sound to give "sight" to the blind challenges the prevailing view of how the brain is organized. The system, called vOICe, scans images and converts shapes into sound by assigning higher sound frequencies to higher points in space. For example, a diagonal line stretching upward from left to right becomes a series of ascending tones.

    The developers—neuroscientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem—tested vOICe on people who were born blind. Despite having no visual memories, they could "see" a person's exact posture represented in sound after 70 hours of training, the team reported last week in Current Biology.

    Brain imaging then revealed activity in the area of their visual cortices responsible for recognizing body shapes in sighted people—a surprising find, the researchers say, because this area shouldn't fully develop without visual experiences. Because a traditional sensory-organized brain model can't explain the results, they argue that the brain is arranged according to tasks rather than senses.

  2. Elephants Know Subtleties Of Human Voice

    Sounds risky.

    Elephants have learned to recognize and fear the voices of Maasai hunters (top).


    Elephants can tell certain human languages apart and even determine our gender and relative age, according to new research in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. There, Maasai pastoralists sometimes spear elephants in protest of park policies or retaliation for tusking and trampling of people or cattle. To find out if the animals could distinguish Maasai voices from those of Kamba farmers in the area, Karen McComb, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Sussex, and colleagues used concealed loudspeakers to play recordings of people in the two ethnic groups speaking their respective languages.

    As the team reported on 10 March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, elephant family groups were more likely to retreat and bunch together in response to adult male Maasai voices than adult male Kamba voices. They were much less fearful of the voices of Maasai women or boys. Young elephants likely learn this sensitivity by watching, the researchers say, in a dramatic example of a human threat changing natural behaviors.

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