Synaesthesia – a neurological curiosity where stimulation of one of the five senses triggers involuntary experiences in a separate sense, has been a difficult phenomenon to pin down. Because a person’s awareness of their synaesthetic perceptions varies greatly between individuals, only a small number of the numerous types of synaesthesia have been identified and investigated. It is estimated that about 4% of the population experiences synaesthesia naturally, however it can also be triggered by drug use, sensory deprivation, hypnosis, or brain damage.
Combined Senses Result In Greater Creativity
The condition is reported as being up to seven times more common in artists, poets, and novelists than in the general population. In fact, scientists are now concentrating on the numerous benefits it can have on cognitive function. Recent research suggests that certain forms of synaesthesia are caused by an increase in the number of connections between the sensory regions of the brain. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego are suggesting that those with synaesthesia are able to make connections not only between unrelated sensations, but unrelated ideas as well, resulting in greater creativity and problem-solving abilities.
What Does This Have To Do With the Rest of Us?
Researchers at the University of East London are training non-synaesthetes (those lacking the neurological condition) to correlate specific letters with specific colors to test if the subjects can remember words easier which have been colored to correspond with their training. The test results suggest that the participants’ memories did improve after their training, and researchers are excited about the implications this may have on warding off early stage symptoms of Alzheimer’s, or in assisting patients with recovery from brain injuries.
To combat the time-consuming memorization of matching colors to letters, a research outfit in the Netherlands has developed a web browser plug-in that automatically displays letters as certain colors for a continuing study on whether or not synaesthesia can be learned. Because there is evidence that synaesthetes possess enhanced memorization abilities, the question is whether non-synaesthetes can be trained using the same mental associations to gain similar cognitive enhancements. This is why today’s scientists are searching for ways to pass on synaesthesia’s useful bits to the other 96% of the population.