In the present study, we attempted to demonstrate a synesthetic relationship between auditory frequency and visual size. In Experiment 1, participants performed a speeded visual size discrimination task in which they had to judge whether a variable-sized disk was bigger or smaller than a standard reference disk. A task-irrelevant sound that was either synesthetically congruent with the relative size of the disk (e.g., a low-frequency sound presented with a bigger disk) or synesthetically incongruent with it (e.g., a low-frequency sound presented with a smaller disk) was sometimes presented together with the variable disk. Reaction times were shorter in the synesthetically congruent condition than in the incongruent condition. Verbal labeling and semantic mediation interpretations of this interaction were explored in Experiment 2, in which high- and low-frequency sounds were presented in separate blocks of trials, and in Experiment 3, in which the tones were replaced by the spoken words “high” and “low.” Response priming/bias explanations were ruled out in Experiment 4, in which a synesthetic congruency effect was still reported even when participants made same-versus-different discrimination responses regarding the relative sizes of the two disks. Taken together, these results provide the first empirical demonstration that the relative frequency of an irrelevant sound can influence the speed with which participants judge the size of visual stimuli when the sound varies on a trial-by-trial basis along a synesthetically compatible dimension. The possible cognitive bases for this synesthetic association are also discussed.
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A.G. was supported by a grant from the Università di Milano Bicocca.
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Gallace, A., Spence, C. Multisensory synesthetic interactions in the speeded classification of visual size. Perception & Psychophysics 68, 1191–1203 (2006). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03193720