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Prog Brain Res. 2006;155:259-71.

Crossmodal interactions: lessons from synesthesia.

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Department of Psychology, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, UK.


Synesthesia is a condition in which stimulation in one modality also gives rise to a perceptual experience in a second modality. In two recent studies we found that the condition is more common than previously reported; up to 5% of the population may experience at least one type of synesthesia. Although the condition has been traditionally viewed as an anomaly (e.g., breakdown in modularity), it seems that at least some of the mechanisms underlying synesthesia do reflect universal crossmodal mechanisms. We review here a number of examples of crossmodal correspondences found in both synesthetes and nonsynesthetes including pitch-lightness and vision-touch interaction, as well as cross-domain spatial-numeric interactions. Additionally, we discuss the common role of spatial attention in binding shape and color surface features (whether ordinary or synesthetic color). Consistently with behavioral and neuroimaging data showing that chromatic-graphemic (colored-letter) synesthesia is a genuine perceptual phenomenon implicating extrastriate cortex, we also present electrophysiological data showing modulation of visual evoked potentials by synesthetic color congruency.

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