Varieties of grapheme-colour synaesthesia: A new theory of phenomenological and behavioural differences

Consciousness and Cognition 16 (4):913-931 (2006)
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Abstract

Recent research has suggested that not all grapheme-colour synaesthetes are alike. One suggestion is that they can be divided, phenomenologically, in terms of whether the colours are experienced in external or internal space. Another suggestion is that they can be divided according to whether it is the perceptual or conceptual attributes of a stimulus that is critical. This study compares the behavioural performance of 7 projector and 7 associator synaesthetes. We demonstrate that this distinction does not map on to behavioural traits expected from the higher–lower distinction. We replicate previous research showing that projectors are faster at naming their synaesthetic colours than veridical colours, and that associators show the reverse profile. Synaesthetes who project colours into external space but not on to the surface of the grapheme behave like associators on this task. In a second task, graphemes presented briefly in the periphery are more likely to elicit reports of colour in projectors than associators, but the colours only tend to be accurate when the grapheme itself is also accurately identified. We propose an alternative model of individual differences in grapheme-colour synaesthesia that emphasises the role of different spatial reference frames in synaesthetic perception. In doing so, we attempt to bring the synaesthesia literature closer to current models of non-synaesthetic perception, attention and binding.

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