Synesthesia: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience

By Lynn C. Robertson; Noam Sagiv | Go to book overview

5
Binding of Graphemes
and Synesthetic Colors
in Color-Graphemic
Synesthesia

Daniel Smilek, Mike J. Dixon, and Philip M. Merikle

Most people experience their visual environment as consisting of meaningful whole objects. How does the visual system combine, or in other words bind, various visual and semantic properties together to create the experience of perceiving meaningful whole objects? We address this question by describing the unusual conscious experiences that accompany color-graphemic synesthesia. Individuals with color-graphemic synesthesia report experiencing vivid colors whenever they view achromatic graphemes. For some of these individuals, the synesthetic colors are experienced as color overlays that appear to be atop, or in other words, bound to, the visually presented graphemes. We were interested in studying colorgraphemic synesthesia in the hope that the unusual binding that occurs in synesthesia might inform us about the processes involved in the general experience of perceiving objects as meaningful wholes.

In this chapter, we describe a series of studies designed to investigate the role that attention and awareness play in binding graphemes and synesthetic colors. Taken together, the results of these studies suggest that at least for some synesthetes, synesthetic colors are bound to graphemes before the synesthetes attend to and become aware of the graphemes, and the meaning of graphemes can play a role in binding synesthetic colors to the graphemes. On the basis of these results, we conclude that for some synesthetes, graphemes and synesthetic colors are bound into meaningful whole objects before the graphemes are attended and the synesthetes become aware of the graphemes.

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