Auditory feedback helps adapt to altered environment

Auditory feedback helps adapt to altered environment

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Providing feedback during practice and competitions is common in all sports. Despite the difficulty of providing feedback during swimming, coaches and teammates commonly provide numerous visual and auditory cues.

Sensory substitution is the skill of the nervous system to receive input from one sensory system and transmit this information to another sensory system. For example, in swimming the sensory system is perturbed by water and fatigue, yet coaches attempt to provide auditory and visual feedback for positional correction.

It is unclear whether the auditory feedback is sufficient in altering motor control. Therefore, the goal of this study was to determine whether the arm motor control system can use auditory feedback to adapt to changed dynamic and kinematic environments, with visual feedback used as a comparison.

What was done

Twenty subjects participated in a forward and backward reaching task with a joystick. The subjects were randomized into two groups: 10 received auditory feedback of trajectory errors and 10 received visual feedback on trajectory errors.

The task consisted of 20 repetitions of the reaching task while receiving their predetermined feedback. The next stage of the experiment required the subject to perform 140 reaches in a viscous force field with the force field altering throughout the 140
repetitions. The last stage consisted of 30 reaches with the same force field, then 30 without a force field.


There was a lack of difference between auditory and visual feedback.


This suggests a similar error reduction with auditory or visual feedback. However, the auditory feedback group resulted in a slightly larger error, suggesting visual feedback may be slightly more effective.

Practical Implication

This suggests auditory feedback may be as effective as visual feedback in training. Therefore, using error feedback via auditory cuing may potentially improve swimming performance. This is available in many telemetry systems which are becoming more
common in elite programs. Future studies should look at providing visual, auditory, and tactile cues.

Related Reading

Friday Interview: Stefan Szczepan Ph.D. Discusses Immediate Feedback in Swimmers

How to Provide Swimming Feedback


  1. Oscari F, Secoli R, Avanzini F, Rosati G, Reinkensmeyer DJ. Substituting auditory for visual feedback to adapt to altered dynamic and kinematic environments during reaching. Exp Brain Res. 2012 Jun 26. [Epub ahead of print]

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