Publication 4840

Auvray M., Hanneton S., Lenay C. & O’Regan K. (2005) There is something out there: Distal attribution in sensory substitution, twenty years later. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience 4(4): 505–521.
Sensory substitution constitutes an interesting domain of study to consider the philosopher’s classical question of distal attribution: how we can distinguish between a sensation and the perception of an object that causes this sensation. We tested the hypothesis that distal attribution consists of three distinct components: an object, a perceptual space, and a coupling between subjects’ movements and stimulation. We equipped sixty participants with a visual-to-auditory substitution device, without any information about it. The device converts the video stream produced by a head-mounted camera into a sound stream. We investigated several experimental conditions: the existence or not of a correlation between movements and resulting stimulation, the direct or indirect manipulation of an object, and the presence of a background environment. Participants were asked to describe their impressions by rating their experiences in terms of seven possible “scenarios”. These scenarios were carefully chosen to distinguish the degree to which the participants attributed their sensations to a distal cause. Participants rated the scenarios both before and after they were given the possibility to interrupt the stimulation with an obstacle. We were interested in several questions. Did participants extract laws of co-variation between their movements and resulting stimulation? Did they deduce the existence of a perceptual space originating from this coupling? Did they individuate objects that caused the sensations? Whatever the experimental conditions, participants were able to establish that there was a link between their movements and the resulting auditory stimulation. Detection of the existence of a coupling was more frequent than the inferences of distal space and object.
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