Poster E115, Monday, March 27, 2:30 – 4:30 pm, Pacific Concourse
Redefining Color in Synesthesia
Madeleine Gorges1, Arturo Hernandez1, David Eagleman2; 1University of Houston, 2Stanford University
For a person with grapheme-color synesthesia, written characters automatically trigger the sensation of specific colors. The extent to which synesthesia is an enhancement of normal cross-modal abilities is a topic of debate. Part of this debate may stem from a misunderstanding of synesthetes’ color experience. Several studies simplify synesthetes’ colors down to the 11 basic color terms and look for meaningful associations between letters and those basic colors. However, if a synesthete experiences a particular grapheme as “red with greeny-blue flecks” (Rich, Bradshaw, & Mattingley, 2005), perhaps their letter-color link is not a normal semantic association. The goal of the current study was to determine whether synesthetes’ colors can be reasonably described using only the 11 basic color terms. We used data from an online test (Eagleman, Kagan, Nelson, Sagaram, & Sarma, 2007) that allows synesthetes to choose from about 16.7 million colors. Non-synesthete participants viewed the synesthetes’ colors as well as standard basic colors (“Color Dictionary,” 2016) and selected the best basic color label, if any. They also rated how well the color matched their chosen color label. Analyses revealed that participants chose the “other” option significantly more for synesthetes’ colors compared to the basic colors and they rated the synesthetes’ colors as worse exemplars of the basic color labels. This distinction between synesthetes’ colors and basic colors suggests that simplified color tasks eliminate important idiosyncrasies in the synesthetes’ experiences, potentially leading to misguided hypotheses about the neural mechanisms behind synesthesia and normal cross-modal abilities.
Topic Area: PERCEPTION & ACTION: Multisensory