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Finding uses for sensory blending

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Synaesthesia can be described as a “union of the senses”, where two or more of the five senses are involuntarily and automatically joined together. Some synaesthetes experience colour when they hear sounds or read words. Others experience tastes, smells, shapes or touches in almost any combination.

Grapheme-colour synaesthesia is one of the most common forms, where individuals associate letters, numbers or words (such as days of the week or months) with colours. The average primary school has 2.2 grapheme-colour synaesthetes, although many are not believed by teachers and parents.

In touch-colour synaesthesia different musical timbres or notes can trigger the perception of colours. And in lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, tastes are perceived in response to specific words.

Researchers at the University of East London are using word tests to determine the condition’s impact on memory. They are investigating its potential to reduce cognitive decline in the elderly, for example, using it to create mnemonics. Other researchers are looking at how synaesthesia affects child development and whether multisensory effects can help children to learn.

Synaesthesia has also been used in pain-reducing virtual reality applications. The use of artificial synaesthesia and combining various senses can help improve and direct sensory distraction from the perceived pain.

Synaesthetic perceptions vary between individuals, so that one may perceive the number four as green while another might sense it as red. Some synaesthetes report being unaware that their experiences were unusual until they realised that others did not share them. Most say that their experiences are pleasant or neutral, although some report a degree of sensory overload.

Synaesthetes are likely to be creative. Famous examples include David Hockney, Vladimir Nabokov and Jean Sibelius.

The UK Synaesthesia Association was founded by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychology at Cambridge University and a leading researcher into the phenomenon.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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