Superior encoding enhances recall in color-graphemic synesthesia

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Synesthesia is a phenomenon in which particular stimuli, such as letters or sound, generate a secondary sensory experience in particular individuals. Reports of enhanced memory in synesthetes raise the question of its cognitive and neurological substrates. Enhanced memory in synesthetes could arise from the explicit or implicit use of a synesthetic cue to aid memory, from changes unique to the synesthete brain, or from both, depending on the task. To assess this question, we tested nine color-graphemic synesthetes using standardized neuropsychological measures that should not trigger color-graphemic synesthesia (visuo-spatial tests) and measures that should trigger color-graphemic synesthesia (verbal tasks). We found a synesthetic advantage on both types of tests, primarily in the initial encoding of information. The pattern of results adds to existing evidence of advantages in synesthetic memory, as well as provides novel evidence that synesthetes may have enhanced encoding rather than superior recall. Synesthetes learn more initially, rather than forgetting less over time.

Original Citation

Gross, V.C.; Neargarder, S.; Caldwell-Harris, C.L.; Cronin-Golomb, A. (2011). Superior encoding enhances recall in color-graphemic synesthesia. Perception, 40(2), 196-208. https://doi.org/10.1068/p6647