1 person out of every 1,000 has synaesthesia, in which an individual
can smell a sound
The research field has grown from grapheme-colour synaesthesia to
include other forms of synaesthesia in which flavours are evoked by
music or words (lexical-gustatory synaesthesia), space structures by
time units, colours by music, etc. Experts on Experimental Psychology
from the University of Granada are studying this phenomenon. The results
of this research have been published by the following scientific
journals, among others: Cortex, Experimental Brain Research and
Consciousness and Cognition.
Surprising as it may seem, there are people who can smell sounds, see
smells or hear colours. Actually, all of as, at some point in our lives,
have had this skill (some authors affirm that it is common in newborns).
This phenomenon, called �synaesthesia� � from the Greek �syn� (with) and
�aisthesis� (sensation) � consists of the pairing of two bodily senses
by which the perception of a determined stimulus activates a different
subjective perception with no external stimulus (in science, the evoker
stimulus is called inducer and the additional experience concurrent).
In the department of Experimental Psychology and Physiology at the
University of Granada <http://www.ugr.es>, a research group is carrying
out pioneer work in Spain on the systematic study of synaesthesia and
its relation with perception and emotions. Professor Juan Lupiáñez
and *Alicia Callejas Sevilla* have devoted many years to the study of
this unknown but interesting phenomenon, which affects approximately one
person out of every thousand. Many of these people do not even know that
they are synaesthetes, as they think they perceive the world normally.
Callejas� doctoral thesis is one of the most detailed studies on this
phenomenon at an international level, and it is probably the first
doctoral thesis on this topic in Europe. Her study covers the various
forms of synaesthesia focussing on the most common one: the
grapheme-colour type (for people with this form of synaesthesia,
letters, words and numbers evoke colours in an automatic and involuntary
One of the distinctive characteristics of this form of synaesthesia is
the fact that people are certain about their perceptions: they feel that
their way of experiencing the world is correct, and they become
disappointed when they realize there is something that is not quite
right. �Therefore, when a person with grapheme-colour synaesthesia
indicates that the word table is blue, it is quite probable that if he
or she ever sees the same word written in a colour other than blue, this
word will appear to him or her as wrong and consider it a mistake. The
synaesthete might even point out that the word is ugly or that he or she
does not like it because it is not correct,� affirms Callejas.
Consequently, finding the word table written in red might be unpleasant
whereas seeing it in blue might be agreeable. This emotional reaction
associated with how synaesthetes perceive consistent or inconsistent
stimuli is an extremely interesting subject and has been studied for the
first time in this doctoral thesis.
Some of Callejas� conclusions show that these emotional reactions occur
automatically and can not be ignored. Moreover, they can affect the
synaesthete to the point of slanting his or her preferences when faced
with certain stimuli which correspond to his or her inner experiences.
Even more important is the fact that these emotions can transform how
they perceive events associated with these experiences. These events may
have no emotional meaning initially but they can become more or less
pleasant if they take place at the same time the synaesthete finds a
word in the correct or incorrect colour.
�Then, there are people for whom time units evoke colours � explains the
researcher. It is also common for a synaesthete to see colours when
listening to words, sounds in general or music notes (people who can see
music, for instance). There are also cases, although fewer, where people
can see colours in flavours, others perceive flavours or experience
touch sensations when listening to different sounds, some link flavours
to touch sensations, etc.�
*An permanent vision*
These researchers from Granada underline that synaesthetes always
experience the same vision, synaesthesia is permanent (a given stimulus
always evokes the same colour for one person) and idiosyncratic (it is
different for each person). Therefore, if for a synaesthete the word dog
is red, every time he or she sees it, it will be perceived as red.
Even though synaesthesia has been known for a long time, its scientific
study is relatively recent. Writings such as the Castel one, in which
reference is made to previous studies about a synaesthesia case in a
blind person, are found in the 18th century. The evolution of the study
of this phenomenon has been spectacular � the number of researchers
working on this topic is constantly increasing, as will be evident in
the Conference which will take place in Granada � and, as the phase of
proving that this phenomenon exists has been overcome, explains Alicia
Callejas, �we are starting to approach questions of major theoretical
importance, and to develop adequate study strategies.� The results of
her research have been published in the following prestigious scientific
journals, among others: Cortex <http://www.cortex-online.org/>,
Experimental Brain Research
<http://www.springerlink.com/content/1432-1106/> and Consciousness and
Nowadays, the research field goes from grapheme-colour synaesthesia to
other forms never studied before: flavours evoked by music or words
(lexical-gustatory synaesthesia), space structures linked to time units,
colours and music, etc.
Dr. Alicia Callejas Sevilla. Department of Experimental Psychology and
University of Granada <http://www.ugr.es>, Phone: +34 958 240 667 � +34
958 240 663. E-mail: [EMAIL PROTECTED] <mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
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