Synesthesia: Some people can taste words
Science calls "synesthetes" people who "taste words and see sounds". This phenomenon occurs through the connection of certain brain regions, which scientists have now discovered. Those affected are by no means crazy, but have very active networks in the brain. The current study was published in the journal "Journal of Neuroscience".
Synesthetes have multiple perceptions in the case of a sensory stimulus. Goethe and List are said to have been synesthetes. The pianist Hélène Grimaud is also one of the people with this special ability. Synesthesia is the coupling of different sensory impressions, so that synesthetes are not only able to hear sounds but also perceive shapes and colors, for example. Letters or numbers are often assigned to specific colors. In some cases, synesthesia also occurs due to illness. This can be the case for example with schizophrenia or drug abuse by hallocinogens. Synesthesia usually occurs in families, so that rarely only one synesthete occurs within a family.
It is known from previous studies using magnetic resonance imaging that synesthetes show greater activity in a certain area of the brain when processing visual stimuli. However, until recently it was not clear how the stronger links between individual senses were created. Recently, neuroscientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich and the Klinikum rechts der Isar in Munich discovered that the increasingly coupled activity between the brain regions mediates the synesthetic connections.
Linked networks in the brain cause synesthesia The human brain has various networks of linked brain regions that perform special tasks. These structures are coupled even when the patient is at rest, for example in subjects who have their eyes closed in an MRI scanner. In order to find out how the coupled resting networks show up in people with synesthesia, psychological tests on different aspects of individual perception were carried out with 12 synesthetes. In addition, the scientists examined the brain's resting state during a ten-minute measurement using functional magnetic resonance imaging. They came to the conclusion that the networks at rest are much more closely linked in synesthetes than in other people. The more stable the synesthetic perception, the stronger the coupling. (ag)