Is synaesthesia a high-level brain power?

The word “synaesthesia” derives from the phrase “joining of the senses”, but the phenomenon might not be the uncontrollable perceptual mishmash that this implies. Instead, the condition may be the result of a special ability in the “higher” brain areas used for language and attention.

Earlier experiments found that people with colour-grapheme synaesthesia, who link numbers and letters with certain colours, are incredibly speedy at a certain task. That is identifying hidden shapes formed out of one number or letter that are embedded in a sea of different, similar-looking characters: a pattern made up of “2”s on a background of “5”s, for example. It was assumed that they automatically imbue the numbers with different colours, causing the hidden pattern to “pop out” as soon as they glance at the display.

Now Jamie Ward at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, and colleagues offer a different explanation. They had 36 colour-grapheme synaesthetes sit a similar test. When given just 1 second to identify the hidden shape, the synaesthetes were more likely to spot it than controls. But they still only found it about 40 per cent of the time. Read more.

See also: Marcotone – The Science of Tone-Color for self-programming sound to color techniques.

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