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The perception of space and form recognition in a simulated environment: the case of minimalist sensory-substitution devices

Whenever we explore a simulated environment, the sensorimotor interactions that underlie our perception of space may be modified. We investigated the conditions under which it is possible to acquire the mastery of new sensorimotor laws and thereby to infer new perceptual spaces. A computer interface, based on the principles of minimalist sensory-substitution devices, was designed to enable different possible links between a user's actions (manipulation of a mouse and/or keys of a keyboard) and the resulting pattern of sensory stimulation (visual or auditory) to be established. The interface generated an all-or-none stimulus whose activation varied as a function of the participant's exploration of a hidden form. In this study we addressed the following questions: What are the conditions necessary for participants to understand their actions as constituting a displacement in a simulated space? What are the conditions required for participants to conceive of sensations as originating from the encounter with an object situated in this space? Finally, what are the conditions required for participants to recognise forms within this space? The results of the two experiments reported here show that, under certain conditions, participants can interpret the new sensorimotor laws as movements in a new perceptual space and can recognise simple geometric forms, and that this occurs no matter whether the sensory stimulation is presented in the visual or auditory modality. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved)