People with synaesthesia - a 'crossing' of the senses - who can 'taste' words, begin to experience the taste sensation even before the word is actually spoken by them, according to a Brief Communication in Nature.
Julia Simner and Jamie Ward write that thinking of the word's meaning - rather than hearing or seeing it - is what triggers taste sensations in people with this type of synaesthesia.
Synaesthesia is a rare condition in which the brain links two or more of the senses; here the researchers investigated synaesthetes who experience taste sensations when speaking, hearing or reading words. In a picture-naming task, participants were shown images of unusual objects in an attempt to induce a state in which they were striving to name the target word. In 89 cases this tip-of-tongue state was achieved and 17 of these were accompanied by an anticipatory taste.
In all instances the taste in anticipation was the same as the taste of the actual word; for example, one participant tasted tuna fish when the word castanets was on the tip of her tongue. She also experienced the taste of tuna fish when the actual word was spoken.
The results suggest that perceptual experience is one component of the brain process of linking meaning to words, and synaesthesia could represent an exaggeration of normal neural mechanisms.
Julia Simner (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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