- Neural basis of individual differences in synesthetic experiences
- The Journal of Neuroscience
- Volume | Issue number
- 30 | 18
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Little is known about how the properties of our private mental world relate to the physical and functional properties of our brain. Studying synesthesia, where a particular experience evokes a separate additional sensory experience, offers the unique opportunity to study phenomenological experiences as a stable trait in healthy subjects. A common form of synesthesia is grapheme-color synesthesia, where a particular letter or number evokes a particular color experience. We studied the neural basis of qualitative different properties of the synesthetic experience by using individual differences in grapheme-color synesthesia. Specifically, the synesthetic color can be experienced "in the mind" (associator synesthetes) or "in the outside world" (projector synesthetes). Gray matter structure and functioning (imaged using voxel-based morphometry and functional magnetic resonance imaging, respectively) were examined in grapheme-color synesthetes (N = 42, 16 projectors and 26 associators) and nonsynesthetes. Results indicated partly shared mechanisms for all grapheme-color synesthetes, particularly in posterior superior parietal lobe, which is involved in the integration of sensory information. In addition, the nature of synesthetic experience was found to be mediated by distinct neural mechanisms. The outside-world experience is related to brain areas involved in perceiving and acting in the outside world (visual cortex, auditory cortex, motor cortex) as well as frontal brain areas. In contrast, the in-the-mind experience is related to the hippocampus and parahippocampal gyrus, known for their role in memory. Thus, the different subjective experiences are related to distinct neural mechanisms. Moreover, the properties of subjective experiences are in accordance with functional properties of the mediating brain mechanisms.
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