Synesthesia in infants and very young children

In Julia Simner & Edward Hubbard (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia. Oxford University Press. pp. 46--63 (2013)
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Abstract

This chapter provides a review of the hypothesis that synesthetic-like perception is present in infants and toddlers. Infants and very young children exhibit evidence of functional hyperconnectivity between the senses, much of which is reminiscent of the cross-sensory associations observed in synaesthetic adults. As most of these cross-sensory correspondances cannot be easily explained by learning, it is likely that these represent natural associations between the senses. In average adults, these 'natural associations' are felt only intuitively rather than explicitly. These observations have led to the proposal of the 'neonatal synaesthesia hypothesis', which purports that all individuals are born synaesthetic, with explicit conscious perception of these natural cross-modal associations dissipating over development in typical individuals. This dissipation is likely the result of experience-dependent synaptic pruning and/or inhibition of cross-sensory neural connections. At the same time, cross-modal associations matching those common in the environment might be assumed to be learned. This hypothesis is re-evaluated in light of recent research findings, and is examined in the context of current evolutionary models of neuronal recycling and emerging evidence of longitudinal changes in children with synaesthesia.

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