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Synaesthesia Can Be Learned

Synaesthesia is the ability for an individual to perceive a color associated with a specific sound, object, or letter.  It is a rare condition that some individuals claim allows them to see the world in a different way than everyone else.  And there are potential applications in which synaesthesia could be useful, as one scientist from the Netherlands has demonstrated.  And the best part?  It can be learned as well.

The existence of synaesthesia has been argued over several times throughout the ages, but Olympia Colizoli may have discovered a way to not only show that the condition exists, but has shown reproducible evidence that the condition could be learned and taught by scientists and therapists.  The experiment included several test subjects where one group was given a book to read in which one of the letters (such as the letter A) was changed to a different color while the control group was simply given a normal book to read.  Then both groups were shown a collection of letters and told to identify different letters from the background.  The control group had some hits and misses as would be expected, but those who had read a book where every letter A had been in a different color were better able to find the letter A during the testing phase.  Those involved with the experiment at the University of Amsterdam are certain this is a form of learned synaesthesia.

Furthermore, this evidence shows that it is possible that some people learn synaesthesia during childhood and it affects them later in life.  And further tests in this area of study are expected to shed further light on the correlation.  One possible example is the potential of making synaesthetic connections between several letters and seeing if the test subject is able to better process information as a result.  Of course the learning applications are still to be fully studied, but Colizoli has shown a potential avenue of brain entrainment with this experiment.

But the most commonly cited form of synaesthesia is the connection between sounds and colors.  Those with the condition will often declare that each sound has its own corresponding color or combination of colors, and as a result the subject is better able to appreciate music and pick out different sounds.  But these are not the only forms of the condition.  The basic definition suggests that those with the condition have a link between a sensory cognitive pathway and a second cognitive pathway allowing for communication between the two.  Though sight and sound are often the most commonly cited examples, different synaesthesiae may result in each sound having a specific smell or each color having a specific texture to it or temperature.  Synesthetes have often described their experiences as being completely normal just like any other aspect of their sensory input until they realized the phenomenon did not apply to others.

If this condition could be a learned behavior, however, is it possible that different forms of sound and images could become associated with positive or negative stimuli?  If a synesthete were to develop an aversion to a certain color or sound, could these sounds be used to subconsciously draw or repel individuals and subconsciously manipulate them?  Such examples already exist actually.  The color yellow is said to be often associated with hunger, so restaurant owners will often use this color prominently in their establishment to encourage customers to purchase more.  These findings illustrate just how mysterious the mind truly is.

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