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The 6th Annual National Conference of the American Synesthesia Association, Inc., took place on January 26 - 28, 2007 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

University of South Florida St. Petersburg Conference Presenters and Abstracts




We are pleased to announce our
Keynote Speaker was Mike J. Dixon
Professor and Chair of Department of Psychology
University of Waterloo
Ontario, Canada


Greta Berman, The Juilliard School, New York City

Historical interest in Synesthesia: “Faking it”

Interest in synesthesia peaked around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, and after a decline, has again risen at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. We tend to explain more recent awareness in terms of the increased capability of scientists to look into the brain, and observe that synesthesia is “real”. But this explanation is still not completely satisfactory. Two fascinating questions would be “why now?” and “why then?” And what, if anything, do the two eras have in common?

One impetus for asking these questions arose from a Norwegian graduate student's thesis about Edward Munch. In asking me where she could read more about synesthesia, she wondered, was he "faking it," and if so, why would he have done this? What is it about synesthesia that caused so many to "fake it?" And why has synesthesia gone in and out of fashion?

Her questions about Munch make a great deal of sense! Many people about the turn of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th did "fake" synesthesia. It was so "IN" then. Many now think even Scriabin "faked" it, since his color/music equivalents uncannily correspond to those of Mme. Blavatsky. Genuine synesthetes, as we all know, have unique color/sound equivalents (or any other senses). These could never correspond to someone else's chart. Most of us agree that Messiaen, David Hockney, and some others are truly synesthetic. And we have investigated the claims of many contemporary artists, finding that they test positive for the "condition". Whether Van Gogh or Kandinsky had it is still up for grabs.

The question, then, is why creative artists claim to be synesthetic if they aren't? And why is this trait considered more desirable during certain historical eras rather than others? In my paper, I shall examine historical interpretations and evaluations of synesthesia, from a "condition" to a "gift".


Mike Dixon, Keynote Speaker, Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Ontario

Of Blue Twos and The Purple Edges of June: Investigations of Grapheme-Colour and Time-Space Synaesthesia.

In synaesthesia, ordinary stimuli can elicit extraordinary experiences. For example when grapheme-colour synaesthetes are shown black digits or letters, they perceive not only the black graphemes, but also perceive highly specific colours called photisms (e.g., 5 is green, 2 is red, C is blue). I will use converging evidence from different methodologies such as backward masking, and object substitution tasks to demonstrate that for some synaesthetes their photisms can influence their ability to identify ordinary black graphemes. I will then present evidence using "ambiguous" graphemes (e.g., a scoreboard 5 that can be interpreted as the digit 5 or the letter S) that indicates that the meaning of the grapheme (in this case whether it is interpreted as a digit or letter) ultimately determines the colour of photisms. In looking at these experiments I will highlight some of the controversies in the literature, as well as present a new line of synaesthesia research involving time-space synaesthesia where time units such as months of the year occupy distinct locations in space and have distinct colours (e.g., June is purple, and is located on the right). I will use Posner cuing and Stroop type methods to demonstrate that for some people with time-space synaesthesia both space and colour are intrinsic attributes related to time. I will also present evidence showing that these spatial attributes can influence the manner in which months are accessed when synaesthetes think about their mental calendars.


Patricia Lynne Duffy, Author; United Nations Language and Communications Programme, New York City

Images of Synesthetes and their Perceptions of Language in Modern Fiction

I would like to continue sharing thoughts from my study of the image of synesthetes in contemporary and modern fiction. I will add more novels of contemporary authors to this year's presentation, among them, The Whole World Over by Julia Glass; The Fallen by T. Jefferson Parker; Lying Awake by Mark Saltzman; The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov; and Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmann.

With the growing body of research into the phenomenon of synesthesia, a number of new works of fiction with synesthetic characters have appeared. This raises the question of how the synesthete is represented in literature, i.e., what is the developing image of the synesthetic character in fiction? Are there common personality features in the portrayals of synesthetes in different works of fiction? Also, do portrayals of synesthetes in contemporary fiction differ from those in works written prior to the flurry of research activity in recent decades? Is synesthesia still mostly portrayed as pathology in contemporary works of fiction? As more information about synesthesia filters into the mainstream community, what is the popular image the synesthete could have in the eyes of the reading public?


David Eagleman, Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

The Genetics of Synesthesia: Linking Genes to Perception

While synesthesia has been explored in behavioral and neuroimaging experiments, what remains unknown is its genetic basis. Synesthesia is an ideal condition for genetic analysis for 3 reasons: (1) A battery of perceptual tests allows confident identification of synesthetes, (2) synesthesia clusters in families and appears to be inherited, and (3) synesthetic perception may result from increased cross-talk between neighboring neural areas, which suggests a set of candidate genes. As for the last point, the increased cross-talk may either be anatomical (implicating genes involved in neuronal pruning, arborization or apoptosis) or it may be functional (implicating genes involved in the balance between inhibition and excitation). We are performing a family linkage analysis to map the gene(s) that correlate with verifiable grapheme-color and timeunit-color synesthesias. To this end, we have developed a battery of psychophysical tests to quickly phenotype synesthetes, i.e., to distinguish them from control subjects. These tests are offered free to the research community at www.synesthete.org. We have obtained pedigrees from several families with multiple cases of synesthesia, and we have harvested DNA samples from over 100 people in these families. A genome wide scan (Affymetrix 10k mapping) will identify most probable genetic region responsible for synesthesia in these families. Within the mapped region, candidate genes will be sequenced and screened for a segregating synesthesia-causing variation. When a probable variation is observed, 100 banked controls will be sequenced for the same variation to eliminate the possibility of a general population polymorphism. The objective of this study is to better understand and characterize the genetic basis of synesthesia. In this talk we will also take time to highlight a list of current unsolved questions in the field.


Katherine Gimmestad, Department of Psychology, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Katherine Gimmestad1, Christopher T. Lovelace2, Department of Psychology, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Does Synesthesia Affect Non-synesthetic Sensory Experience?

Although much research has examined what perceptual phenomena constitute synesthesia, there is little research as to whether synesthesia may affect non-synesthetic sensory experience. Our first question was whether people who experience colors as part of their synesthetic experiences (color synesthetes) would perform better in a color discrimination task than synesthetes who do not experience colors as part of their synesthetic experiences (no-color synesthetes) or non-synesthete controls. We administered a standard test of color discrimination ability (Farnsworth-Munsell 100 Hue test) to 10 color synesthetes, 2 no-color synesthetes, and 19 non-synesthete controls. Indeed, we found that color synesthetes did significantly better on the color discrimination task than no-color synesthetes and non-synesthete controls. In addition, people who experience synesthesia often describe their experiences as being strongly vivid and detailed. We were interested in whether these synesthetic experiences would affect the reported strength of vividness of their visual imagery. We administered a standard imagery scale (Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire) to 12 synesthetes and 10 non-synesthete controls. Synesthetes reported slightly stronger overall vividness of visual imagery than non-synesthetes, but this was not a statistically reliable difference.


Veronica Gross, Department of Psychology, Vision and Cognition Laboratory, Boston University

Veronica C. Gross, Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Sandra Neargarder, Alice Cronin-Golomb; Department of Psychology, Vision and Cognition Laboratory, Boston University

Limited evidence for pop-out effects in color-graphemic synesthesia

Previous studies have suggested that certain color-graphemic synesthetes experience visual pop-out when examining printed stimuli that trigger their synesthesia. We hypothesized that if pop-out occurs, it could enhance speed and accuracy on tests that require discrimination between letter and non-letter stimuli. We presented to eight color-graphemic synesthetes and eight control participants a masked array of five letters and pseudoletters (nonsense shapes made of letter components) for 125 ms and asked them to make judgments about the stimuli. In the "detect" condition, participants were asked whether a letter was present in this array. In the "locate" condition, they were asked where the letter was located in the array. We found no significant group differences for number correct or reaction time on the "detect" condition. There was a trend towards better performance of synesthetes than the control group (p=.076) on the locate condition, but no differences in reaction time. These results indicate that the presence of pop-out in color-graphemic synesthesia may be more limited than previously believed. We also observed that several synesthetes reported no color cue at 125 ms, suggesting a timing threshold for synesthesia higher than previously believed.


Avishai Henik, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel

Henik, A.; Cohen Kadosh, R.; Cohen Kadosh, K.; Department of Behavioral Sciences Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel

When Red is a Number: Neuro-cognitive Roots of Synesthesia

What is the neuro-cognitive basis for cross-modal interactions? The answer to this question is of major importance to the understanding of function and dysfunction. As a result, the phenomenon of synesthesia has received a great deal of interest recently in the scientific literature. Many studies have stressed the uni-directional nature of this phenomenon (e.g., Beeli et al., 2005; Mills et al., 1999; Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001). For example, color-grapheme synesthetes automatically perceive achromatic numbers as colored (e.g., 7 is turquoise). Conversely, colors do not automatically give rise to any sort of number experience (e.g., turquoise is not 7). Another line of research revolves around the question of whether synesthesia is a perceptual (low level) or a conceptual (high level) phenomena. Our studies suggest that colors can evoke numerical representations (i.e., bi-directionality) even in the absence of any digit presentation. Behavioral and neuroimaging studies show this at various levels of observation (i.e., neuronal, behavioral, and phenomenological levels). Moreover, it seems that synesthesia can be both perceptual and conceptual. We suggest that: 1) in synesthesia there can be a bi-directional rather than uni-directional flow of information between dimensions, 2) synesthetes might not be aware of bi-directionality in everyday life, and 3) cross-modal interactions can involve different neuronal substrates at different time frames within the same individual.


Edward M. Hubbard, INSERM Unit 562 Cognitive Neuroimaging, Orsay, France

Edward M. Hubbard1, Julia Simner2 and Jamie Ward3.
1. INSERM Unit 562 Cognitive Neuroimaging, Orsay France
2. Psychology, PPLS, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
3. Jamie Ward, Department of Psychology, University College London, London, UK

Anatomically Constrained Cross-Activation: A Grand Unified Theory of Synesthesia?

In 2001 Ramachandran and Hubbard proposed that grapheme-colour synesthesia might be due to a genetic mutation that leads to incomplete pruning between adjacent grapheme selective regions and colour sensitive region V4 (the "cross-activation" theory). Here, we review subsequent research which has suggested specific neural correlates for other forms of synesthesia, to evaluate how well the cross-activation theory generalizes. Some examples suggest that the cross-activation theory can be successfully extended to other forms of synesthesia. For example, Hubbard et al. (2005) have suggested that number forms may arise from cross-activation between numerical and spatial regions in the parietal cortex, Simner and Hubbard (in press) have suggested that ordinal linguistic personification from cross-activation between ordinal sequence and personality representations in the inferior parietal lobule, and Ward, Simner, Ayeung (2003) have suggested that lexical-gustatory synesthesia from cross-activation between lexical representations in the superior temporal sulcus and gustatory cortex in the insula. However, other forms of synesthesia may require a more complex model. Given that even with auditory input, synesthetic colors are often sensitive to graphemic representations (Simner, in press), we suggest that auditory word to colour synesthesia may arise through a two stage process, in which auditory sounds activate grapheme regions, which in turn activate V4. Currently no such models exist for pure tone-color synesthesia or emotion-color synesthesia, making these interesting future test-cases of the model. Based on its success in explaining many forms of synesthesia, we suggest that anatomically constrained cross-activation may constitute a Grand Unified Theory of Synesthesia.


Wan-Yu Hung, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Wan-Yu Hung1 & Julia Simner2
1. School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
2. Psychology, PPLS, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Synaesthesia in Chinese

This study investigates synaesthesia in Mandarin Chinese, a language that differs vastly from alphabetic systems such as English. In Chinese, words are written as "character" (e.g., ) or by a corresponding Romanised spelling (e.g.,= fu), and each is pronounced with on of four tones (high, rising, falling-rising, falling). Recent studies of synaesthesia in alphabetic languages suggest that such words may be coloured by their initial letters or vowels. If word colouring in Chinese differs drastically from that of alphabetic languages, this would provide evidence that synaesthesia depends on the particular language environment, and so is learned, at least to some extent. We tested five Chinese-speaking synaesthetes (two native speakers; three non-native speakers) and 20 controls (10 native speakers; 10 non-native speakers). Synaesthetes provided their synaesthetic colours for a list of Chinese characters, and were significantly more consistent in their choices over 2 months, compared to controls after only 2 weeks. Following previous research in alphabetic languages, we also investigated whether there was any systematic pattern to the colours assigned to different characters. In particular, we asked whether the synaesthetic colour of Chinese characters is related to (a) the initial letter of the Romanised spellings, (b) the initial vowel of the Romanised spellings, or (c) the character"s tone. Our results showed evidence for letter-influences but not tone-influences: colours were determined by either the initial letter (for 2 non-native speakers) or vowel (for 1 native-speaker), or were unrelated to any feature (tested for the remainder). We discuss these findings in relationship to native vs. non-native speakers, and English vs. Chinese systems.


Christopher T. Lovelace, Department of Psychology, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Christopher T. Lovelace & Katherine D. Gimmestad, Department of Psychology, University of Missouri-Kansas City

It's not a "symptom"! Why mental health professionals should know about synesthesia

The mental health professional must diagnose and treat a dizzying array of problems. They listen to each patient describe many aspects of their mental and physical life, sorting through this narrative to identify sensory, cognitive, and emotional symptoms suggestive of known mental disorders. Some things that a patient may report are clearly suggestive of a specific disorder. For example, "I hear voices telling me to do things" might make the therapist think of schizophrenia. However, during the course of therapy the patient will describe many experiences, not all of which are pathological or problematic. They could, say, talk of experiencing colors when they see letters, or shapes when they perceive tastes. To the uninitiated therapist, these might be seen as potential symptoms, although we would recognize them as indicative of ordinary, garden-variety synesthesia. While it is unlikely that one would seek treatment for synesthesia, synesthetes, like the rest of us, are not immune to psychological disturbance or the need for therapy. It would, therefore, benefit the synesthete community to educate clinicians as to the presence and indicators of synesthesia, so that these clinicians may make more educated evaluations of the role of different sensory phenomena in psychological disorders. I will outline the ways in which synesthetic experience may seem similar to clinical phenomena, how they are really different, and how we can educate clinicians as to the difference.


Natasha Lvovich, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, New York City

Synesthesia and Language Embodiment

The paper will hypothesize the relationship between synesthesia and language embodiment. The concept of language embodiment has been developed as a result of research in multilingualism and emotions, language emotionality, and multilingual memory. The hypothesized relationship will speak to the core experience of grapheme/phoneme conceptual synesthetes and will raise important interdisciplinary questions about synesthesia, language, cognition, memory, perceptions, narratization, and philosophy of self. The presenter will introduce first the concept of language embodiment and its manifestation in native and foreign (second) language emotionality on the neurophysiological and psycholinguistic level, linking language perception, affective linguistic conditioning, and autobiographical memories. Excerpts from translingual writers' memoirs will be read to illustrate the difference between embodied words of the first language and disembodied words of the second language and how synesthetic imagery idiosyncratically expresses their language embodiment. Research on therapy with bilingual patients and on bilingual autobiographical memory with the emphasis on eidetic memory will be mentioned to support the concepts. One may theorize a synesthetically organized paradigm of affective linguistic conditioning where language units represent conditioned stimulus and synesthetic imagery represents conditioned response. Questions for discussion and further research: does neurophysiological mapping of synesthesia support this hypothesis? How does neurological data relate to multilinguals' perceptions of language emotionality? In which way could the model of language embodiment illuminate research in both areas?


Catherine Mulvenna, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, UK

Synaesthesia and Cognitive Creativity

It has been claimed that synaesthetes have a distinctive profile of cognitive and behavioural traits, the most commonly, anecdotally reported being a seemingly higher propensity for creativity. This is often exemplified by high profile artists who are/were alleged to be synaesthetes, but debates have concerned the validity of these claims and consequently the relationship between synaesthesia and creativity. Here, we discuss what spectrum of the arts and/or creative cognition may be linked to the phenomenon and present new recent empirical evidence: A large student population (n=445) was screened for grapheme-colour synaesthesia. Potential synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes (matched for age, gender, nationality, education-level, university subject studied) completed the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. Formal synaesthete/non-synaesthete classification with a 10-week measure of consistency was then carried out and participants remained naive to their status throughout the experiment. Results showed those classified as synaesthetes had scored significantly higher on tests of cognitive creativity than non-synaesthetes. We are currently expanding the sample size and exploring further subtypes of synaesthesia. The results will be discussed in the context of theories of the neurological basis of creative thinking and the advantages/disadvantages for the individual who experiences synaesthesia.

Lidell Simpson, Composer; Ridgeland, Mississippi

The Sound of Silence II

I have profound sensorioneural nerve deafness since birth. I did not start wearing hearing aids until I was 5. I have vision to sound, touch to sound synesthesia which are the most prominent form. I also have to a lesser degree, smell to sound, taste to sound, body motion to sound synesthesia. In effect, just about all of my sensory perception has a sound counterpart. Even emotions gets translated to sound. And not so infrequently, certain techno music caused me to see blue blobs projected and certain sounds of music also get translated into sense of touch.

After a well received presensation of Dancing Lights as my first installment of my series of original works of The Sound of Silence I present my second and third installments in the series. This is my representation of what I called Neurochill Trance. The music empasised the vision/touch to sound synesthesia shown on an another level. I have for years had suffered debilitating migraines which was finally halted Ketamine. The first track is called Migraine showing what the migraines and resulting seizure I would get sounded like. The second track titled Mindwarp echoed the enhancement of my synesthesia under the influence of Ketamine. It opened a new sense of meditative ambient music.


Marcia Smilack, Photographer; Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

The Language of Synesthesia

I am a bi-directional synesthete who experiences multiple forms of synesthesia. I photograph reflections on moving water and click the shutter at the moment I experience a texture or sound response. For that reason, a researcher asked for my input on his invention to convert images of one's surroundings into sound to help blind people see.

I sent him photographs of sounds which I selected from the thousands of photos I have taken in the last twenty years that document my synesthetic responses. However, he explained that as no two synesthetes perceive the same way, my images were most likely not universal enough to be useful for his purposes. But that planted an idea in me. Were there any universals? I sorted my images into two piles, putting the sound pile in front of me, shoving the texture pile to the side because I didn't expect to use it. Suddenly, I heard the sound of chimes, only it was coming from the wrong place: peripherally seen, the top image of the texture pile was eliciting the chime sound. When this happened a second time, I found my eureka moment.

To test my hunch of universality, I began an experiment in which I asked non-synesthetes to match sounds to the images I presented. No one had difficulty matching the image to the chime sound. So, now I am considering: first, could my two senses have traded places in the layers of conscious awareness; and second, am I more likely to find universal shapes for sound amid my texture images where they may be hidden even from me; and third, do these images elicit similar responses in both synesthetes and non-synesthetes alike. I wish to share the results of similar experiments at the conference in the hope of learning more about the language of synesthesia.


Ferrinne Spector, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Ferrinne Spector & Daphne Maurer, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University

The Color of O's: Naturally-biased Associations of Shape to Colour

When adults are asked to associate colors to letters, their choices are surprisingly consistent with those of other subjects and with the percepts of individuals with coloured grapheme synesthesia (Simner et al., 2005). These consistencies could be naturally-biased (i.e., not related to specific experiences), or based in literacy (e.g., "A" is for "apple", apples are red). To explore the origin of colour/letter mappings, we developed a child-friendly game and tested three age groups. English speaking pre-literate toddlers, literate children aged 7-9, and adults were presented with letters for which the adult population exhibits consistent color mappings, namely A, G, O, and X (red, green, white, and black, respectively). On each trial, participants were presented with a letter, and chose which of two opponent colors (e.g. red/green) best corresponded. The letters O and X were consistently mapped to white and black in all three populations, while the letters A and G were consistently mapped to red and green only in the two literate populations. In subsequent experiments we explored the role of the sound of the letter versus its shape. We found that the consistent mappings for X and O in pre-literate children are determined by the shape of the letter and not its sound. These results suggest that although some shape-colour associations are literacy-based, others appear to result from naturally-biased associations between shape and colour that may reflect intrinsic cortical connectivity (Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001). In ongoing research we are investigating other color-letter pairings and non-opponent color choices.


Carol Steen, Artist; Touro College, New York City

From Sound and Pain: Useful Colors

When touched in specific ways, or when in pain, I see colors. I always have. Often, the colors are seen bright and luminous: azures, greens, and blues against a black background as dark and rich as silk velvet. The colors I see differ depending on what touches me or the state of my health. The bright piercing orange of the dentist's drill dissolves the black background and hurts my eyes. The onset of a head cold surrounds me in a synesthetic tan fog. The acupuncturist's needles cause colors along my legs, my arms: greens, reds, pinks and yellows. I can tell what points are connected to other linked points by these colors. They also show me the state of my health and indicate the speed of my recovery.

When hearing sounds I see colors. I see them move: lambent gem-like transparencies in overlapping jewel tones. I use these pigment captured sounds to create my paintings. Though Sound and Pain involve different senses, the synesthetic visions both give me are similar. My presentation will show my recent work and explore how I use these Useful Colors.


Mark Stewart, Department of Psychology, Willamette University, Salem, Oregon

Giggling nannies and sassy puppies: Toward an understanding of lexical-color synesthesia

From an empirical standpoint, the last several years have taught us much about synesthesia, the bulk of it stemming from investigations of the perceptual experiences of grapheme-color synesthetes. Researchers have explored a variety of issues, ranging from establishing the perceptual validity of synesthetic concurrents to determining their apparent role in higher-order cognitive capacities such as memory. Importantly, these studies have led to several useful experimental paradigms and generated much fruitful debate over theory. By comparison however, there has been considerably less empirical work devoted to systematic investigation of lexical-color synesthesia. This may be due in part to the highly idiosyncratic nature of word-concurrent experiences among synesthetes and the various measurement challenges they present. Nevertheless, such investigations are crucial to our being able to bridge the gap between rudimentary understanding of the phenomenon and broader implications of what synesthesia can tell us about language and, ultimately, the mind. I will discuss findings from my laboratory work involving lexical-color synesthetes, in particular focusing on data that has helped frame my thinking on the role played by synesthetic concurrents in word recognition. I shall also touch on some of the challenges and constraints of various methodologies used by language researchers and their potential application for those investigating synesthesia.


Ursina Teuscher, Cognitive Science and Psychology Department, University of California San Diego

Ursina Teuscher1, and Edward M. Hubbard2
1. Cognitive Science and Psychology Department, University of California San Diego
2. INSERM Unit 562 Cognitive Neuroimaging, Orsay France

Neural constraints on synesthesic mappings and conceptual metaphors: The case of time and space.

Previous synesthesia research has argued that synesthesia may provide an important basis for higher-level conceptual processes such as metaphor. In the current talk we examine one well-studied class of conceptual metaphor, the Time is Space metaphor, in light of recent studies of synesthesia. The cross-cultural existence of this metaphor has traditionally been interpreted as a result of our common embodied experiences in the world. Although we agree that experience is important, we suggest that this metaphorical mapping may arise not only because of the structure of our embodied experience, but also because of the structure of our brains and the manner in which our brains make sense of that experience. From that perspective, we note here the close correspondence between the Time is Space metaphor and time-space synesthesia, in which temporal sequences are represented as having spatial locations. Recent findings in human neuroimaging, neuropsychology and monkey physiology suggest that the parietal cortex houses circuitry crucial for both temporal and spatial representations. We suggest that the same neural structures that are involved in the representation of sequences and space, which in synesthetes may lead to perceptual experiences, are connected to a lesser degree in everyone, thus providing a brain based constraint on the universal Time is Space metaphor. A better understanding of the bottom-up constraints imposed on our conceptual structures by our neural structures has profound implications for our understanding of metaphor and cognition.


Cretien van Campen, Researcher, Author; Social and Cultural Planning Office in the Netherlands

Can nonsynesthetes appreciate synesthetic art?

Does one need to be a synesthete to appreciate synesthetic art? Or can nonsynesthetes appreciate it as well? And in the same way? While only a small number of people are diagnosed with neural synesthesia, large audiences of people nonetheless appreciate synesthetic art in forms like colored music and musical paintings. Focusing on studies of colored hearing, a prevalent type of synesthesia, I will compare artistic experiments and art theories about synesthesia that have emerged over the last centuries to current neuroscientific research. This review will show that artists and scientists define synesthesia differently, though their theories are related within the wider framework of multisensory perception. I will then demonstrate that certain aspects of synesthetic experience are more universal than is usually believed. I conclude that while the perception of colored music and musical paintings is different for synesthetes and nonsynesthetes, they both can appreciate it in their own way.


James I. Wannerton, UK Synaesthesia Association; Blackpool, Lancashire, United Kingdom.

Why Oysters taste of chocolate: Living with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia

For as long as I can remember, words, some ambient sounds and certain musical instruments have had the effect of producing a strong, involuntary burst of taste on my tongue. Texture and temperature also feature in this experience which affects well over half of all words I hear, read, or articulate through inner speech.

Throughout my life, this additional sensation has had a profound effect on my everyday life and normal decision making processes, helping shape my concepts and personality. Synaesthesia has subtly dictated the nature and course of my friendships and personal relationships, my education, career, where I live, what I wear, what I read, the make and colour of car I drive - the list is endless.

The presentation I wish to give will take you on a personal journey through my synaesthetic experiences as a child through to the present day. How I discovered that not everyone else shared my perceptions and how that led on to becoming involved in detailed research into the why's and wherefore's of the condition, sharing with you the methodology and subsequent results of this interesting and quite often gruelling research.

Also, I'd like to briefly discuss the question, "What next?" In my capacity as President of the UK Synaesthesia Association I am committed to raising the profile of this fascinating condition in the UK and I would like the opportunity of discussing a current project I am involved in which is to increase educators awareness of synaesthesia and to recognise any possible implications within the classroom environment.


Isabel Wunsche, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, International University Bremen, Germany

Extending Human Perception: From Synesthesia to Organic Culture in Russian Avant-Garde Art

The artists of the early Russian avant-garde considered art to be a universal language and strove to create a new art which would overcome the division between life and art. The artist-physician Nikolai Kulbin developed his art theory on the basis of his physiological and neurological studies. For him, the physical action of the universal movement of color or sound served as outer stimuli that caused psychical effects in the spectator's brain. Familiar with the scientific studies of Hermann von Helmholtz, Gustav Theodor Fechner, and Wilhelm Wundt, he declared harmony and dissonance to be basic principles of art and suggested the use of "close combinations," as an important means to achieve expression and contrast in art. The painter-musician Mikhail Matiushin began to explore Kulbin's synesthetic considerations more systematically in the 1920s. Convinced that the evolution of humankind was related to the further development of the human senses, he called for an Organic Culture that concentrated on "the investigation and development of the human organism, on the senses of touch, hearing, vision, thought and their centers' and began to investigate the interrelations between color and sound at the State Institute of Artistic Culture in Leningrad. He found confirmation of his observations that there exists a double-sided interaction of color and sound in the scientific studies of Helmholtz, Johannes von Kries, and Petr Lazarev. In my paper, I will discuss experiments with synesthesia from Russian Symbolism to the Organic School of the Leningrad avant-garde. Particular emphasis will be on the shift from a more mystical orientation in Russian Symbolism toward a more scientific grounding of the avant-garde experiments and the various functions a new, synesthetic art was designed to serve.