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J Cogn Neurosci. 2007 Jun;19(6):981-92.

When "3" is a jerk and "E" is a king: personifying inanimate objects in synesthesia.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


We report a case study of an individual (TE) for whom inanimate objects, such as letters, numbers, simple shapes, and even furniture, are experienced as having rich and detailed personalities. TE reports that her object-personality pairings are stable over time, occur independent of her intentions, and have been there for as long as she can remember. In these respects, her experiences are indicative of synesthesia. Here we show that TE's object-personality pairings are very consistent across test-retest, even for novel objects. A qualitative analysis of TE's personality descriptions revealed that her personifications are extremely detailed and multi-dimensional, and that her personifications of familiar and novel objects differ in specific ways. We also found that TE's eye movements can be biased by the emotional associations she has with letters and numbers. These findings demonstrate that synesthesia can involve complex semantic personifications, which can influence visual attention. Finally, we propose a neural model of normal personification and the unusual personifications that accompany object-personality synesthesia.

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