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Humans can learn to use acoustic echoes to detect and classify objects. Echolocators typically use tongue clicks to induce these echoes, and there is some evidence that higher spectral frequency content of an echolocator's tongue click is associated with better echolocation performance. This may be explained by the intensity of the echoes. The current study tested experimentally (a) if emissions with higher spectral frequencies lead to better performance for target detection, and (b) if this is mediated by echo intensity. Participants listened to sound recordings that contained an emission and sometimes an echo from an object. The peak spectral frequency of the emission was varied between 3.5 and 4.5 kHz. Participants judged whether they heard the object in these recordings and did the same under conditions in which the intensity of the echoes had been digitally equated. Participants performed better using emissions with higher spectral frequencies, but this advantage was eliminated when the intensity of the echoes was equated. These results demonstrate that emissions with higher spectral frequencies can benefit echolocation performance in conditions where they lead to an increase in echo intensity. The findings suggest that people who train to echolocate should be instructed to make emissions (e.g. mouth clicks) with higher spectral frequency content.

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Audition, cognition, perception, sensory plasticity/adaptation