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Cortex. 2009 Nov-Dec;45(10):1266-77. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2009.06.012. Epub 2009 Jul 7.

The objectification of overlearned sequences: a new view of spatial sequence synesthesia.

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  • Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA. eagleman@bcm.edu


In the phenomenon of spatial sequence synesthesia (SSS), subjects can articulate explicit spatial locations for sequences such as numbers, letters, weekdays, months, years, and other overlearned series. Similarly, abstract sequences can take on implicit spatial representations in non-synesthetes, as evidenced by the spatial numerical association of response codes (SNARC) effect. An open question is whether the two findings represent different degrees of the same condition, or different conditions. To address this, we developed computer programs to quantify three-dimensional (3D) month-form coordinates in 571 self-reported spatial sequence synesthetes; this approach opens the door for the first time to quantified large-scale analysis. First, despite the common assumption that month-forms tend to be elliptical, we find this to be true in only a minority of cases. Second, we find that 27% of month forms are in the shape of lines, consistent with the assumed shape of implicit spatial forms in the SNARC effect. Next, we find that the majority of month forms are biased in a left-to-right direction, also consistent with the directional bias in the SNARC effect (in Western speakers). Collectively, these findings support the possibility that SSS is directly related to the sequence representations in non-synesthetes. While the search for neural correlates has concentrated on areas in the parietal lobe involved in numeric manipulation and coordinate systems, we propose that the basis of this synesthesia may be the close proximity of temporal lobe regions implicated in sequence coding and visual object representation.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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