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Cortex. 2006 Feb;42(2):295-303.

Neuronal correlates of colour-graphemic synaesthesia: a fMRI study.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, Germany.


Synaesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which specific events in one sensory modality induce experiences in another. In colour-graphemic synaesthesia, subjects report colour experiences induced by written letters. Our subjects displayed this type of synaesthesia, as verified by a test of the consistency of the perceptual associations over time, and had no history of neurological or psychiatric disorders. We investigated the hypothesis that the synaesthetic colour experience is accompanied by an activation of the human colour area (V4/V8) using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). With retinotopic and colour mapping we could confirm that colour stimuli specifically activate area V4/V8. For the study of colour-graphemic synaesthesia we used an AB boxcar design with blocks of letters that elicited a synaesthetic colour experience (condition A) alternating with blocks of letters that did not (condition B). In both hemispheres condition A led to a significantly higher activation of V4/V8 than condition B. These findings support the hypothesis that the grapheme-induced colour perception in synaesthesia is caused by an activation of the colour areas of the human visual cortex.

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