Psychophysical investigations into the neural basis of synaesthesia

V. S. Ramachandran, E. M. Hubbard


We studied two otherwise normal, synaesthetic subjects who 'saw' a specific colour every time they saw a specific number or letter. We conducted four experiments in order to show that this was a genuine perceptual experience rather than merely a memory association. (i) The synaesthetically induced colours could lead to perceptual grouping, even though the inducing numerals or letters did not. (ii) Synaesthetically induced colours were not experienced if the graphemes were presented peripherally. (iii) Roman numerals were ineffective: the actual number grapheme was required. (iv) If two graphemes were alternated the induced colours were also seen in alternation. However, colours were no longer experienced if the graphemes were alternated at more than 4 Hz. We propose that grapheme colour synaesthesia arises from 'cross–wiring' between the 'colour centre' (area V4 or V8) and the 'number area', both of which lie in the fusiform gyrus. We also suggest a similar explanation for the representation of metaphors in the brain: hence, the higher incidence of synaesthesia among artists and poets.

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