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Multiple dimensions in bi-directional synesthesia


T. Gebuis, as above.


Grapheme-color synesthetes report seeing a specific color when a number is perceived. The reverse, the synesthetic experience of a specific grapheme after the percept of a color is extremely rare. However, recent studies have revealed these interactions at both behavioral and neurophysiological levels. We investigated whether similar neuronal processes (i.e. perceptual and/or attentional) may underlie this bi-directional interaction by measuring event-related potentials (ERPs) during both a number-color and color-number priming task. In addition, we investigated the unitarity of synesthesia by comparing two distinct subtypes of synesthetes, projectors and associators, and assessed whether consistencies between measures (i.e. behavioral and electrophysiological) were present across synesthetes. Our results show longer reaction times for incongruent compared with congruent trials in both tasks. This priming effect is also present in the P3b latency (parietal electrode site) and P3a amplitude (frontal electrode site) of the ERP data. Interestingly, projector and associator synesthetes did not reveal distinct behavioral or electrophysiological patterns. Instead, a dissociation was found when synesthetes were divided in two groups on the basis of their behavioral data. Synesthetes with a large behavioral priming effect revealed ERP modulation at the frontal and parietal electrode sites, whereas synesthetes with a small priming effect revealed a frontal effect only. Together, these results show, for the first time, that similar neural mechanisms underlie bi-directional synesthesia in synesthetes that do not report a synesthetic experience of a grapheme when a color is perceived. In addition, they add support for the notion of the existence of both ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ synesthetes.