Thursday, May 28, 2020

An explanation for human synesthesia

Fascinating work from Maurer et al.:
Synesthesia is a neurologic trait in which specific inducers, such as sounds, automatically elicit additional idiosyncratic percepts, such as color (thus “colored hearing”). One explanation for this trait—and the one tested here—is that synesthesia results from unusually weak pruning of cortical synaptic hyperconnectivity during early perceptual development. We tested the prediction from this hypothesis that synesthetes would be superior at making discriminations from nonnative categories that are normally weakened by experience-dependent pruning during a critical period early in development—namely, discrimination among nonnative phonemes (Hindi retroflex /d̪a/ and dental /╔ľa/), among chimpanzee faces, and among inverted human faces. Like the superiority of 6-mo-old infants over older infants, the synesthetic groups were significantly better than control groups at making all the nonnative discriminations across five samples and three testing sites. The consistent superiority of the synesthetic groups in making discriminations that are normally eliminated during infancy suggests that residual cortical connectivity in synesthesia supports changes in perception that extend beyond the specific synesthetic percepts, consistent with the incomplete pruning hypothesis.

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