The use of sound during visual training can enhance later performance on a purely visual task, a finding that demonstrates just how much multisensory interaction occurs in brain areas that before now were thought to be dedicated solely to vision.
Aaron Seitz and colleagues tested two groups of participants on a task that required them to view a screen full of moving dots. Most of the dots were moving randomly but sometimes a subset moved coherently either to the left of right. The participants’ task was to detect when this minority of dots moved coherently and which direction they moved in.
Training for half the participants involved practice on the task as described above. Crucially, however, the other half of the participants were trained on a version in which the coherently moving dots were accompanied by the sound of something moving leftwards or rightwards.
When the participants were tested on the purely visual task, the performance of the participants who were trained with sound improved faster than the vision-only participants, both within an individual session, and from one session to the next. For example, the participants trained with sound reached peak performance by the third testing session, whereas the participants trained without sound didn’t reach peak performance until the seventh session.
“Our results show that multisensory interactions can be exploited to yield more efficient learning of sensory information and suggest that multisensory training programmes would be most effective for the acquisition of new skills”, the researchers concluded.
Seitz, A.R., Kim, R. & Shams, L. (2006). Sound facilitates visual learning. Current Biology, 16, 1422-1427.