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Cortex. 2011 Mar;47(3):320-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2009.09.004. Epub 2009 Sep 17.

The neural correlate of colour distances revealed with competing synaesthetic and real colours.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Norway.


Synaesthetes claim to perceive illusory colours when reading alphanumeric symbols so that two colours are said to be bound to the same letter or digit (i.e., the colour of the ink, e.g., black, and an additional, synaesthetic, colour). To explore the neural correlates of this phenomenon, we used a Stroop single-letter colour-naming task and found that distances in colour space between the illusory and real colours of a letter target (as computed from either the RGB or CIExyY coordinates of colours) systematically influenced the degree of neuronal activation in colour-processing brain regions. The synaesthetes also activated the same fronto-parietal network during the classic colour-word Stroop task and single-letter tasks. We conclude that the same neural substrate that supports the conscious experience of colour, as triggered by physical wavelength, supports the experience of synaesthetic colours. Thus, two colour attributes (one that is wavelength-dependent and one that is illusory) can be bound to the same stimulus position and simultaneously engage the colour areas in proportion to their similarity in colour space.

Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Srl. All rights reserved.

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