The role of attention in synesthesia

In Julia Simner & Edward Hubbard (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia. Oxford University Press. pp. 265 (2013)

Abstract
Mechanisms of attention play a crucial role in filtering sensory inputs from the external world, allowing information to be prioritised for goal directed behaviour. To what extent might these same capacity-limited processes influence grapheme-colour synaesthesia, in which letters, numbers or words evoke concurrent experiences of colour? Asking synaesthetes themselves whether attention seems important in their experiences has provided a range of answers. On the one hand, for some synaesthetes, diverting attention can diminish the quality of their synaesthetic colours. On the other, there are suggestions that synaesthetic experiences can themselves alter the manner in which attention is allocated to sensory stimuli in the environment. Here, we review a range of empirical investigations that have examined the role of attention in grapheme-colour synaesthesia. A particular focus of these studies has been the extent to which an inducing stimulus - such as an achromatic letter or digit - must be attended or consciously perceived to trigger a concurrent synaesthetic experience. In most cases, limiting attention or masking inducers tends to reduce or eliminate behavioural evidence of synaesthetic experiences. We also discuss how synaesthesia might improve performance in visual search tasks through post-attentive processes such as grouping, or by facilitating decision-making processes.
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DOI 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199603329.013.0014
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