Can synaesthesia have cognitive benefits and can it be taught? Those are the questions asked by Jack Dutton in an article published in the February issue of The Psychologist. Synaesthesia was first reported in 1812, but only recognised as a neurological condition in the 1990s.
There are over 60 known types of synaesthesia, a condition in which stimulation of one sense, such as taste, leads to automatic, involuntary experience in a second sense.
People with synaesthesia tend to perform better on memory tasks, particularly involving colour, abstract patterns or words and this can also be transferred to creative disciplines such as music.
Whilst predominantly thought to be a hereditary condition, there is evidence that environmental associations from childhood have a strong effect on the symptoms of synaesthesia.
Studies have found it is possible to teach certain aspects of the condition and this could have potential benefits for memory and creativity, as well as being used to reduce the effects of disorders such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD.
Jack Dutton quotes Dr Nicolas Rothen, one of the leading experts on the condition, who predicts: ‘In the last decade, people were concerned about showing that synaesthesia was a real phenomenon, but now people are looking into what the effects of synaesthesia and questioning its advantages and disadvantages.’