Searching through synaesthetic colors

Abstract

Synaesthesia can be characterized by illusory colors being elicited automatically when one reads an alphanumeric symbol. These colors can affect attention; synaesthetes can show advantages in visual search of achromatic symbols that normally cause slow searches. However, some studies have failed to find these advantages, challenging the conclusion that synaesthetic colors influence attention in a manner similar to the influence of perceptual colors. In the present study, we investigated 2 synaesthetes who reported colors localized in space over alphanumeric symbols’ shapes. The Euclidian distance in CIE xyY color space between two synaesthetic colors was computed for each specific visual search, so that the relationship between color distance (CD) and efficiency of search could be explored with simple regression analyses. Target-to-distractors color salience systematically predicted the speed of search, but the CD between a target or distractors and the physically presented achromatic color did not. When the synaesthetic colors of a target and distractors were nearly complementary, searches resembled popout performance with real colors. Control participants who performed searches for the same symbols (which were colored according to the synaesthetic colors) showed search functions very similar to those shown by the synaesthetes for the physically achromatic symbols.

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Correspondence to Bruno Laeng.

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Laeng, B. Searching through synaesthetic colors. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 71, 1461–1467 (2009). https://doi.org/10.3758/APP.71.7.1461

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Keywords

  • Control Participant
  • Visual Search Task
  • Slope Coefficient
  • Search Function
  • Search Rate