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Psychol Sci. 2007 Jun;18(6):481-6.

Color opponency in synaesthetic experiences.

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  • 1Department of Neurophysiology, Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


Grapheme-color synaesthesia is a rare condition in which perception of a letter or a digit is associated with concurrent perception of a color. Synaesthetes report that these color experiences are vivid and realistic. We used a Stroop task to show that synaesthetically induced color, like real color, is processed in color-opponent channels (red-green or blue-yellow). Synaesthetic color produced maximal interference with the perception and naming of the real color of a grapheme if the real color was opponent to the synaesthetic color. Interference was reduced considerably if the synaesthetic and real colors engaged different color channels (e.g., synaesthetic blue and real red). No dependence on color opponency was found for semantic conflicts between shape and color (e.g., a blue lemon). Thus, the neural representation of synaesthetic colors closely resembles that of real colors. This suggests involvement of early stages of visual processing in color synaesthesia and explains the vivid and realistic nature of synaesthetic experiences.

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