Get access

The neural basis of illusory gustatory sensations: Two rare cases of lexical–gustatory synaesthesia


Catherine Jones, The Clinical Imaging Sciences Centre, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Falmer BN1 9RR, UK (e-mail:


Lexical–gustatory synaesthesia is a rare phenomenon in which the individual experiences flavour sensations when they read, hear, or imagine words. In this study, we provide insight into the neural basis of this form of synaesthesia using functional neuroimaging. Words known to evoke pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant synaesthetic tastes and synaesthetically tasteless words were presented to two lexical–gustatory synaesthetes, during fMRI scanning. Ten non-synaesthetic participants were also scanned on the same list of words. The synaesthetic brain displayed a different pattern of activity to words when compared to the non-synaesthetes, with insula activation related to viewing words that elicited tastes that have an associated emotional valence (i.e., pleasant or unpleasant tastes). The subjective intensity of the synaesthesia was correlated with activity in the medial parietal lobes (precuneus/retrosplenial cortex), which are implicated in polymodal imagery and self-directed thought. This region has also previously been activated in studies of lexical–colour synaesthesia, suggesting its role may not be limited to the type of synaesthesia explored here.