Another project I was working on during my stay at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science was the relationship between color preferences and synesthesia. A presentation based on this work has been accepted for a poster session at the Plenary meeting of the International Society for Research on Emotion (ISRE 2011), to be held in Kyoto, Japan, July 26-29, 2011.
Emotional responses and values in synesthesia: The case of color preferences
Tom Froese, Cass Gould, Jamie Ward and Anil K. Seth
The condition of synesthesia, whereby subjects consistently have additional sensations (e.g. colors, tastes, spatial forms, sounds, etc.) when perceiving certain kinds of stimuli (e.g. letters, sounds, faces, emotions, etc.), is currently a hot topic of research in cognitive science. Much progress has already been made in elucidating the neural correlates and behavioral markers of synesthesia, but so far there has been little study of what it is actually like to experience these unusual sensations. We therefore conducted a series of qualitative interviews with synesthetes.
One salient aspect that emerged from this research is that the additional sensations are commonly associated with strong emotional responses and that these often form the basis for value judgments. This kind of emotional and evaluative response has not yet been taken into account in the science of synesthesia. In order to get a better understanding of this finding we conducted a detailed survey for the specific case of color preferences.
Our study revealed that there are statistically significant differences in color preferences between synesthetes and non-synesthetes. This indicates that synesthetes differ from controls more generally than is often assumed. In particular, we found that synesthetes are more strongly committed to very specific color preferences, and that these colors tend to evoke clearly felt emotions. In fact, synesthetes are twice as likely to describe the effects in terms of feelings. In many cases the effects are also reported as profoundly transformative of how the synesthetes experience their embodiment in the world.