Synaesthesia Research

This is where you can read more about the neuroscience research, the facts about synaesthesia and what SYN has to do with all that!

SYN Final Proposal2.jpg
SYN Final Proposal2.jpg

What is synaesthesia?

Synesthesia is a condition in which stimulation of one sensory modality causes unusual experiences in a second, unstimulated modality.

(Hubbard & Ramachandran, 2005)

Synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which a stimulus (termed an inducer), which may be sensory (especially a sound or flavor) or cognitive (including a word, a number, or the names of days or months), involuntary, automatically, and consistently arouses a non-externally stimulated sensation (termed a concurrent).

What are the defining characteristics of synaesthesia?

• To be involuntary and automatic means that synaesthesia is not a conscious decision or a rational manifestation. Synaesthesia is a passive, non- suppressible experience, although is aroused by an easily identifiable stimulus. (Bragança et al., 2015)

• To be consistent means that sensations evoked by stimuli do not change over time. Re-tests over a one-year period have shown consistency of over 90% in synaesthesia in which the competing sensation was colour viewing, according to Hubbard and Ramachandran.(Hubbard & Ramachandran, 2005)

• It is idiosyncratic - synaesthesia manifests itself in a personal way for the same stimulus. Thus, in grapheme colour synaesthesia, everyone perceives the same letter as having a specific colour. However, it is argued that idiosyncrasy may not be an essential condition of synaesthesia as music listening heavily relies on these sensory cross-modal associations that we automatically and involuntarily experience, and which are largely shared.  (Ward et al., 2006)

• Most types of synaesthesia are unidirectional, a number may evoke a colour, although the colour will not evoke the same number. However, cases of bi-directional synaesthesia have been reported. (Cohen Kadosh & Henik, 2007)

• Synaesthesia is additive; that is, it adds to the normal perception and does not replace or mask it.

• Synaesthesia is an emotional experience; the synesthete has the conviction that that perception is significant and real. Many synesthetes feel shocked when they discover that other people do not share the same form of perception. (Hubbard, 2007)

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How many people have synaesthesia?

And how many types of synaesthesia are there?

The estimated prevalence of synaesthesia in the population has varied greatly as the study of the subject has progressed. Initial studies indicated a rate of 1 in 25,000.

In 2006, Simner and colleagues (Simner et al., 2006) tested two large samples, one comprising 500 and another of 1190 subjects, and diversified the tests to measure different variants of synaesthesia. The authors identified a prevalence of 1 in 23, evenly distributed between women and men.

However, this estimated prevalence remains imprecise because not all possible variants of synaesthesia are known. Sean Day has catalogued more than 65 on his website. Cytowic and Eagleman however, estimate the existence of more than 150 different forms of this condition. (“Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia,” 2009)

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What’s the role of SYN as an experience in all this?

SYN as an immersive experience aims to explore synaesthesia from a combined artistic and psychological perspective. We believe that art, in particular through the potential of new technologies available to us now, can be a useful tool for communicating scientific research in ways that can reach a wider audience.

In addition to this, we aim to create a space for investigating the role of synaesthesia in creativity, looking at how the idiosyncratic variations of the condition can influence the individual’s creative process. Moreover, another goal of SYN is raising awareness on synaesthesia in order to open a conversation on neurodiversity and creating a more accepting, inclusive and understanding society.

Our research will aim to investigate the following questions:

  1. How does synaesthesia influence creativity? Exploring the neuroaesthetics of synaesthesia through the qualitative analysis of the artistic process of translation between natural synaesthesia with its lack of perceptual presence, and its external representation.

  2. Can synaesthesia improve our sensory awareness, our interoceptive awareness? How does this correlate with wellbeing? Can SYN as an immersive experience based on cross-modal synaesthetic associations facilitate a state of relaxation and calm by using synchrony between the senses as a mechanism to improve our interoceptive awareness?

  3. What role does memory play in the synaesthesia creative process? Can neurotypicals relate to synaesthesia through an experience of collective memory?

 

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Why bring together research and art in this project?

 

Because SYN needs the science to help us stay truthful to the lived experience of synaesthesia, and it needs the art to communicate diversity through the creative process.

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