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Cognition. 2006 Aug;101(1):114-28. Epub 2005 Nov 8.

What is the relationship between synaesthesia and visuo-spatial number forms?

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Department of Psychology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.


This study compares the tendency for numerals to elicit spontaneous perceptions of colour or taste (synaesthesia) with the tendency to visualise numbers as occupying particular visuo-spatial configurations (number forms). The prevalence of number forms was found to be significantly higher in synaesthetes experiencing colour compared both to synaesthetes experiencing taste and to control participants lacking any synaesthetic experience. This suggests that the presence of synaesthetic colour sensations enhances the tendency to explicitly represent numbers in a visuo-spatial format although the two symptoms may nevertheless be logically independent (i.e. it is possible to have number forms without colour, and coloured numbers without forms). Number forms are equally common in men and women, unlike previous reports of synaesthesia that have suggested a strong female bias. Individuals who possess a number form are also likely to possess visuo-spatial forms for other ordinal sequences (e.g. days, months, letters) which suggests that it is the ordinal nature of numbers rather than numerical quantity that gives rise to this particular mode of representation. Finally, we also describe some consequences of number forms for performance in a number comparison task.

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