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May 9, 2014
Taylor & Francis
Scientists studying the bizarre phenomenon of synasthesia best
described as a union of the senses whereby two or more of the five
senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and
automatically joined together have made a new breakthrough in their
attempts to understand the condition.
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Experiencing letters as colors: New insights into synesthesia
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Credit: AntonioBattista Am2 / Fotolia [Click to enlarge image]
S
Colored letters and numbers. Scientists studied four synesthetes who experience
color when seeing printed letters of the alphabet.
cientists studying the bizarre phenomenon of synesthesia -- best
described as a "union of the senses" whereby two or more of the five
senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and
automatically joined together -- have made a new breakthrough in their
attempts to understand the condition.
V.S. Ramachandran and Elizabeth Seckel from the
University of San Diego studied four synesthetes who
experience color when seeing printed letters of the
alphabet. Their aim was to determine at what point
during sensory processing these 'colors' appeared.
To do this, the researchers asked their synesthetes --
as well as a control group -- to complete three
children's picture puzzles in which words were printed
backwards or were not immediately visible.
When the results were processed, Ramachandran and
Seckel discovered that the synesthetes were able to
complete the puzzles three times faster than the
control subjects, and with fewer errors. The
synesthetes also revealed that they saw the obscured
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Taylor & Francis. "Experiencing letters as colors: New insights into synesthesia."
ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 May 2014.
<www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140509074122.htm>.
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synesthetes also revealed that they saw the obscured
letters in the puzzles in the same color as they would
the 'normal' letters. This process effectively clued
them in to what the letters were, and allowed them to
read the distorted words much more quickly than the
controls could.
Although it was just a small study, Ramachandran and Seckel's work, published in the
current issue of Neurocase, 'strongly supports the interpretation that the synthetic
colors are evoked preconsciously early in sensory processing'. The four synesthetes
had an advantage in completing the puzzles because the 'extra' information they
received when looking at the letters was then sent up to 'higher levels of sensory
processing, providing additional insight for reading the distorted and backwards text': a
fascinating and important insight into a condition those of us who see letters as just
letters find simply baffling.
Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Taylor & Francis. Note: Materials
may be edited for content and length.
Journal Reference:
1. V.S. Ramachandran, Elizabeth Seckel. Synesthetic colors induced by
graphemes that have not been consciously perceived. Neurocase, 2014; 1 DOI:
10.1080/13554794.2014.890728
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