Tim Brunson DCH

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Can grapheme-color synesthesia be induced by hypnosis?

Grapheme-color synesthesia is a perceptual experience where graphemes, letters or words evoke a specific color, which are experienced either as spatially coincident with the grapheme inducer (projector sub-type) or elsewhere, perhaps without a definite spatial location (associator sub-type). Here, we address the question of whether synesthesia can be rapidly produced using a hypnotic color suggestion to examine the possibility of "hypnotic synesthesia", i.e., subjectively experienced color hallucinations similar to those experienced by projector synesthetes. We assess the efficacy of this intervention using an "embedded figures" test, in which participants are required to detect a shape (e.g., a square) composed of local graphemic elements. For grapheme-color synesthetes, better performance on the task has been linked to a higher proportion of graphemes perceived as colored. We found no performance benefits on this test when using a hypnotic suggestion, as compared to a no-suggestion control condition. The same result was found when participants were separated according to the degree to which they were susceptible to the suggestion (number of colored trials perceived). However, we found a relationship between accuracy and subjective reports of color in those participants who reported a large proportion of colored trials: trials in which the embedded figure was accurately recognized (relative to trials in which it was not) were associated with reports of more intense colors occupying a greater spatial extent. Collectively, this implies that hypnotic color was only perceived after shape detection rather than aiding in shape detection via color-based perceptual grouping. The results suggest that hypnotically induced colors are not directly comparable to synesthetic ones.

Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Apr 28;8:220. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00220. Anderson HP(1), Seth AK(2), Dienes Z(1), Ward J(1). Author information: (1)School of Psychology, University of Sussex Brighton, UK ; Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex Brighton, UK. (2)School of Psychology, University of Sussex Brighton, UK ; School of Engineering and Informatics, University of Sussex Brighton, UK.

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