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Cortex. 2011 Jul-Aug;47(7):874-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2011.02.008. Epub 2011 Feb 15.

Swimming-style synesthesia.

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Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, Germany.


The traditional and predominant understanding of synesthesia is that a sensory input in one modality (inducer) elicits sensory experiences in another modality (concurrent). Recent evidence suggests an important role of semantic representations of inducers. We report here the cases of two synesthetes, experienced swimmers, for whom each swimming style evokes another synesthetic color. Importantly, synesthesia is evoked also in the absence of direct sensory stimulation, i.e., the proprioceptive inputs during swimming. To evoke synesthetic colors, it is sufficient to evoke the concept of a given swimming style e.g., by showing a photograph of a swimming person. A color-consistency test and a Stroop-type test indicated that the synesthesia is genuine. These findings imply that synesthetic inducers do not operate at a sensory level but instead, at the semantic level at which concepts are evoked. Hence, the inducers are not defined by the modality-dependent sensations but by the "ideas" activated by these sensations.

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