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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Mar 19;99(6):4127-31.

The perceptual reality of synesthetic colors.

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Department of Psychology, Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience, and Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240, USA.


Synesthesia is a remarkable, rare condition where an individual has multimodal perceptual experiences from a unimodal sensory event. We have studied such an individual, an adult male for whom achromatic words and alphanumeric characters are seen in vivid, reliable colors. We used a variety of perceptual tasks to document the perceptual reality of synesthetic colors and to begin to localize the stage of visual processing where this anomalous binding of externally specified form and internally generated color may take place. Synesthetic colors were elicited by forms defined solely by binocular cues or solely by motion cues, which implies a central locus of visual processing for synesthetic binding of form and color. Also included among our measurements was a difficult visual search task on which non-synesthetic subjects required an effortful search through the visual display. Our subject, in contrast to non-synesthetic subjects, accomplished the task with relative ease because the target of the search had a different synesthetic color from the distractors. Thus, synesthetic experiences appear to originate from a binding of color and form that takes place within central stages of visual processing.

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