New Brain Imaging Study Reveals The Structures That Support Color Synesthesia
A group of researchers in Norway used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the brain activity patterns of two grapheme-colour synaesthetes, as they looked at letters written in different colours, presented on a screen while inside an MRI scanner. The participants had previously been asked to indicate the synaesthetic colours that they associated with given letters and were then presented with single letters whose physical colour sometimes corresponded to the synaesthetic colour and other times was clearly different.
Prof. Bruno Laeng from the University of Oslo, along with colleagues Kenneth Hugdahl and Karsten Specht from the University of Bergen, had reasoned that increasing the similarity between the physical and synaesthetic colours should affect the level of activity seen in areas of the brain known to be important for colour processing, and their results confirmed this expectation, revealing that the strength of the observed brain activity was correlated with the similarity of the colours.
The authors concluded that the same brain areas that support the conscious experience of colour also support the experience of synaesthetic colours, allowing the two to be "seen" at the same time. This supports the view that the phenomenon of colour synaesthesia is perceptual in nature.
The article is "The neural correlate of colour distances revealed with competing synaesthetic and real colours" by Bruno Laeng, Kenneth Hugdahl, Karsten Specht, and appears in Cortex, Volume 47, Issue 3 (March 2011), published by Elsevier in Italy.
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