Are synesthetes different beyond their synesthetic associations?
35.16, Sunday, May 12, 5:15 - 7:00 pm, Royal Ballroom 1-3
Charlotte Chun1,2, Jean-Michel Hupe1; 1Centre de Recherche Cerveau et Cognition, Université de Toulouse & Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 31300 Toulouse, France., 2P.O. Box 26170. University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Greensboro, NC, 27402-6170
Synesthesia, a subjective phenomenon in which individuals experience an automatic connection between two or more senses, is purportedly associated with other personal characteristics, like mental imagery, personality and creativity. The visual and linguistic predominance of the majority of types of synesthesia suggest that synesthetes may differ along these dimensions. We compared cognition, personality factors, visual mental imagery, and creative thinking in groups of synesthetes and non-synesthetes. Participants were recruited from universities and public museums (n=3743) to complete an online screening survey, thus avoiding the typical recruitment bias wherein synesthetes spontaneously contact researchers. From the initial pool of respondents (n=1092), we selected a group of verified synesthetes (n=29) and non-synesthetes (n=36) to complete tests of global cognition and creative thinking (verbal, visual, convergent, and divergent), as well as questionnaires of personality and mental imagery. Synesthetes showed enhanced verbal comprehension (WAIS-III index), elevated self-reports of openness to experience and absorption in imaginative activities on personality questionnaires, as well as slightly higher usage (but not vividness) of visual mental imagery. They also scored higher on visual convergent and verbal divergent thinking tests. We evaluated the overall strength of these differences with linear discriminant classification analysis and a leave-one-out procedure. Using all cognitive and personality scores, the classifier correctly predicted whether a subject was a synesthete or not in 67% of the cases (p=0.06, randomization test). In comparison, the same classifier performed at 76% when differentiating men and women. Performance for synesthesia reached 70% (p=0.02) on the basis of the four creativity tests. If, as a group, synesthetes differ from the general population, these differences are still less pronounced than those observed here between men and women (that is, within French culture), suggesting that on an individual level, synesthetes may not necessarily show exceptional characteristics beyond their phenomenal synesthetic experiences.