The human body has 5 senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. What happens when you try to teach it how to deal with a new one?
That’s what a group of neurobiologists from Weizmann Institute tried to figure out by using thin, light and elastic “whiskers,” and they even discovered it might help blind people in the future.
Rats feel their environment by moving their whiskers 8 times per second, which is their main sense, and it is not shared with humans.
The Weizmann scientists tried to understand how the human brain can deal with this sense by asking a number of participants to sit on a chair with their eyes covered, while their two index fingers, right and left, had 30cm-long elastic whiskers (a location meter and a power meter) attached to them. Two poles were placed on both sides of the chair, and one of them was a little behind the other.
The participants were asked to use their new “whiskers” to find out which pole is behind the other. When the participant was right, the scientists brought the poles closer and the person was asked to repeat the mission. The data was pretty impressive on the first day, but the subjects got even better every day after that.
The findings provide new insights into the way the brain perceives the world around it, and how it learns to work with a new sense. In addition, they point to the possibility that the immediate improvement of the concept when learning a new sense is motor improvement, which leads to more efficient movement strategies. Such motion strategies can help the blind, because they can learn to use the sense of touch – as well as various accessories related to it – as a substitute for sight.
I think this is a really cool way to make significant improvement in people’s lives – I mean, think about it, using something so trivial as rats’ whiskers in order to help blind people? That’s pretty awesome.
Here’s a video about the experiment (from geobeats on youtube.com):