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Synaesthesia across cultures -


Synaesthesia is a condition in which stimulation of one sensory modality (e.g. hearing) causes additional experiences in a second, unstimulated modality (e.g. seeing colours). It is an automatic, involuntary phenomenon, and a person’s synaesthetic experiences are stable over time, i.e. the experiences do not (qualitatively) change from childhood. The most common sorts of synaesthetic experiences in the West are related to graphemes, numbers, time units, and musical notes or keys. However, to date — as far as we can ascertain — there has been no systematic cross-cultural investigation into synaesthesia.

A cross-cultural pilot
We have developed a pilot to start gathering cross-cultural data on the forms and prevalence of synaesthesia. The pilot offers a few simple, low-tech tasks that can be used to survey potential synaesthetes in field sites across the globe. Since the phenomenon can be difficult to explain in field situations, the pilot focuses on specific questions using simple stimuli like a colour chart, a musical scale, and pebbles for spatial arrangement. Questions can be varied by the researcher; for example, in the question Which colour does [DAY OF THE WEEK] cause you to see?, alternatives to [DAY OF THE WEEK] include phonemes, numbers, musical sounds, graphemes and other abstract symbols, proper names, and months. The pilot also includes an overview of frequent synaesthetic experiences found in the West for additional elicitation ideas.

grapheme-colour synaesthesia

Grapheme - colour synaesthesia

The pilot is included in the 2009 Field Manual of the Language & Cognition group. You can find a digital version here. Please contact one of the researchers below if you are interested in using it.

  • Majid, A., Van Leeuwen, T., & Dingemanse, M. (2009). Synaesthesia: a cross-cultural pilot. In Field Manual Volume 12, pp. 8-13. Nijmegen: MPI for Psycholinguistics.

Mark Dingemanse
Tessa van Leeuwen external link
Asifa Majid

Last checked 2017-12-16 by Mark Dingemanse
Language and Cognition


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