Visualized voices: A case study of audio-visual synesthesia

Authors: Louise Fernay, David Reby, and Jamie Ward
Publication:  Neurocase
Publication date:  27 June 2011
DOI:  10.1080/13554794.2010.547863
Abstract:  We report a single case study of a synesthete (PS) who has complex visual experiences from sounds, including human voices. Different vowel sounds from different speakers and modified to be of different pitch (f0) were presented to PS and controls who were asked to draw an (abstract) visual image of the sound noting colors, sizes, and locations. PS tended to be more consistent over time than controls. For both PS and controls, the pitch of the vowel influenced the choice of luminance (higher pitch being lighter) and vertical position (higher pitch being higher in space). However, the gender of the speaker influenced the size of the ‘image’ independently of pitch (vowels from males being larger).
As a synesthete, I find it amazing when cases of new types of synesthesia are reported.  Visual experiences from sounds?  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to read this particular case study for a year, the length of the database embargo.
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3 Responses to Visualized voices: A case study of audio-visual synesthesia

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    You’re a synesthete? Wow. Maybe someone with access will download the article and send it to you (we can hope).

    Maybe better: The chief author usually has reprints to send out on request. Send an e-mail, or a letter, and ask. Tell them why you’re interested, maybe they’ll want to interview you.

    A couple of years ago I came across a study that said there are slightly more than 1 synesthete per 100 people — 5 in a high school studentbody of 400. Much higher frequency than I would have guessed, and I’ve never run across anyone who would confess to it in my classes.

    I understand some synesthetes are astounding at spelling, others astounding at math (the answers sometimes come in tell-tale colors, or with music, at the right answer). Fascinating to me.

  2. Ed Darrell says:

    You might want to check out this article at PLOS:

    “Do Synesthetes Have a General Advantage in Visual Search and Episodic Memory? A Case for Group Studies”

  3. Thanks for the comments, Ed. I have 3 different forms (there are supposed to be over 60). Only one other member of my family has synesthesia, my daughter, so we’ve been asked to participate in a research study to see if there’s a genetic component. I appreciate the links. When my daughter was about 5, we had our first argument about it. We both also assign genders to letters and numbers. So I’d say something like “7 is orange and female” and she’d say, “No, it isn’t! How could you think that? “7 is green and male!” I think that synesthesia might help me with spelling, but I also visualize words as colors with personalities. When I see a word, it frequently has its own color and I can count the letters because it’s a distinct entity. When I spell it, I start out thinking I know how many letters it has based on the image in my brain. But other than that, I can’t figure out what synesthesia could possibly be good for–it’s just another way to be weird.

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