Synaesthesia: a distinct entity that is an emergent feature of adaptive neurocognitive differences

Ward, Jamie (2019) Synaesthesia: a distinct entity that is an emergent feature of adaptive neurocognitive differences. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences, 374 (1787). pp. 1-13. ISSN 0962-8436

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In this article, I argue that synaesthesia is not on a continuum with neurotypical cognition. Synaesthesia is special: its phenomenology is different; it has distinct causal mechanisms; and is likely to be associated with a distinct neurocognitive profile. However, not all synaesthetes are the same, and there are quantifiable differences between them. In particular, the number of types of synaesthesia that a person possesses is a hitherto underappreciated variable that predicts cognitive differences along a number of dimensions (mental imagery, sensory sensitivity, attention to detail). Together with enhanced memory, this may constitute a common core of abilities that may go some way to explaining why synaesthesia might have evolved. I argue that the direct benefits of synaesthesia are generally limited (i.e. the synaesthetic associations do not convey novel information about the world) but, nevertheless, synaesthesia may develop due to other adaptive functions (e.g. perceptual ability, memory) that necessitate changes to design features of the brain. The article concludes by suggesting that synaesthesia forces us to reconsider what we mean by a ‘normal’ mind/brain. There may be multiple ‘normal’ neurodevelopmental trajectories that can sculpt very different ways of experiencing the world, of which synaesthesia is but one.

This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Bridging senses: novel insights from synaesthesia’.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Synaesthesia/synaesthesia; perception; cognition; evolution; mental imagery; memory
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Depositing User: Sanjeedah Choudhury
Date Deposited: 28 Mar 2019 11:28
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2019 13:30

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