It's more common than you think. People with the innate gift of synaesthesia often hear not only with their ears. Other senses than those expected participate in the perception. In contrast to when you say "The eye eats too", e.g. in gustatory synaesthesia, taste alone can also produce colours when blindfolded. And in contrast to the expectation of yellow in the taste of a lemon, in synaesthesia predominantly colours are mixed completely unmetaphorically into the experience. The codings usually remain reliably consistent. Anyone who wants to say something and sees its colour before the word even occurs has a very interesting form of consciousness. This ability inspires thinking about how the brain permanently manages to include all of its twists and turns in an overall experience (hearing area, visual area, feelings, etc.). Intuition, gut feeling and spontaneity can be expected as quickly as the connections of the senses in synaesthetic perception. At least 5% of people are gifted with synaesthesia, a form of evolution. Connections, "binding", are central functions of the brain for the generation of consciousness. Where certain areas are more closely connected, there is an exciting field of research into how consciousness works. How does the brain make it that I can do something with what I experience? Reinforced functions can be measured. E.g. the increased coupling of hearing and sight where a sound triggers a colour. Synaesthesia as an intensified coupling is thus an exciting paradigm in consciousness research.
The work of the group is characterized by three focal points: On the one hand, using the research results to better explain the functions of consciousness. On the other hand, synaesthesia itself should be better explained and learned from it. Against the background of the rarer affliction of mental illnesses in synaesthesia, it is also about the question of what can be learned from it for healing. While it is undoubtedly not a disease but a variant with many advantages, there are still challenges associated with synaesthesia in everyday life, especially in school, upbringing, relationships and medical characteristics such as the compatibility of psychotropic substances, researching a third major focus of synaesthesia research in Hanover.
Among other things, the analysis of neurotrophins is intended to help differentiate the hypotheses about the origin of synaesthesia. Is synaesthesia an archaic phenomenon in the sense of residual panaesthesia as in the early childhood brain, or is synaesthesia associated with diseases that are associated with a reduced rate of synapse formation? Or is synaesthesia in the sense of a hyperconnected brain a pre-developed variant of consciousness with a particularly pronounced neuroplasticity?
- Gaschler-Markefski B, Szycik GR, Sinke C, Neufeld J, Schneider U, Baumgart F, Dierks O, Stiegemann U, Scheich H, Emrich HM, Zedler M. Anomalous Auditory Cortex Activations in Coloured Hearing Synaesthetes: An fMRI-Study. Seeing Perceiving. 2011;24(4):391-405. DOI
- Simner J, Rehme MK, Carmichael DA, Bastin ME, Sprooten E, McIntosh AM, Lawrie SM, Zedler M. Social responsiveness to inanimate entities: Altered white matter in a ‘social synaesthesia’. Neuropsychologia. 2016;216:282-289. DOI
- Neufeld J, Sinke C, Dillo W, Emrich HM, Szycik GR, Dima D, Bleich S, Zedler M. The neural correlates of coloured music: a functional MRI investigation of auditory-visual synaesthesia. Neuropsychologia. 2012 Jan;50(1):85-9. DOI
With the mixing of sensory impressions, some things can be learned more easily. People with synaesthesia benefit a priori from the possibilities of polyvalent recording of memory content, but come up against limits in the pedagogical normative system. On the one hand, the advantages of synaesthesia for normal pedagogical methods and for rehabilitative measures in neurocognitive diseases and dissociative disorders are explored, and on the other hand, routines in the school system are adapted, taking into account the specific characteristics of dealing with synaesthetes.
- Zedler M. Das A ist rot: Von vermischten Sinnen. Eine kleine Übersicht zur Synästhesie. Neuropaed. 2014;13, 136-140. PDF
- Zedler M, Rehme MK, Synesthesia: A psychosocial approach. In: Simner J, Hubbard , editors. The Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia. Oxford University Press; 2013. Chapter 46. Available from: DOI
- Emrich HM, Schneider U, Zedler M. Welche Farbe hat der Montag? Synästhesie: das Leben mit verknüpften Sinnen. 2nd edition. Stuttgart: Hirzel; 2017. 142 p. Available here.
While synaesthesia can be understood as a healthy norm variant of qualitative human consciousness, the phenomenon also provides a kind of protective function for a particular resilience to psychiatric illnesses. Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that despite synaesthesia you may develop psychiatric diseases. During a special consultation, the characteristics of the genesis of psychiatric illnesses and the tolerability and effectiveness of pharmaco-psychiatric treatment methods are evaluated.
- Nielsen J, Krüger THC, Hartmann U, Passie T, Fehr T, Zedler M. Synaesthesia and Sexuality: The influence of synaesthetic perceptions on sexual experience. Front Psychol. 2013;4:751. DOI
- Neufeld J, Roy M, Zapf A, Sinke C, Emrich HM, Prox-Vagedes V, Dillo W, Zedler M. Is synesthesia more common in patients with asperger syndrome? Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:847. DOI
Departamento de Psicología Experimental, Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de Granada, España
Departamento de Bellas Artes, Universidad de Granada, España
School of Psychology University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
Research group members
Research group leader
Dr. med. Markus Zedler
Assistant medical director
Phone: +49 511 532 3165
Excellence at a glance:
- Founding member of the German Synaesthesia Association e.V.
- Founding member of the Grupo de investigación Internacional de sinestesia/synesthesia, Spain
- Delegate of the Fundación Internacional artecittà, Cuevas del Almanzora, Spain
Title of the thesis: "Investigation of the connections between synesthesia and neuroplasticity - UNSYN study"