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Musical space synesthesia: Automatic, explicit and conceptual connections between musical stimuli and space

Elsevier Inc.
DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2014.06.001
  • Music Cognition
  • Spatial Attention
  • Synesthesia
  • Musical–Space Synesthesia
  • Smarc Effect
  • Spatial Stroop
  • Automaticity
  • Consistency
  • Musicology


Abstract In musical–space synesthesia, musical pitches are perceived as having a spatially defined array. Previous studies showed that symbolic inducers (e.g., numbers, months) can modulate response according to the inducer’s relative position on the synesthetic spatial form. In the current study we tested two musical–space synesthetes and a group of matched controls on three different tasks: musical–space mapping, spatial cue detection and a spatial Stroop-like task. In the free mapping task, both synesthetes exhibited a diagonal organization of musical pitch tones rising from bottom left to the top right. This organization was found to be consistent over time. In the subsequent tasks, synesthetes were asked to ignore an auditory or visually presented musical pitch (irrelevant information) and respond to a visual target (i.e., an asterisk) on the screen (relevant information). Compatibility between musical pitch and the target’s spatial location was manipulated to be compatible or incompatible with the synesthetes’ spatial representations. In the spatial cue detection task participants had to press the space key immediately upon detecting the target. In the Stroop-like task, they had to reach the target by using a mouse cursor. In both tasks, synesthetes’ performance was modulated by the compatibility between irrelevant and relevant spatial information. Specifically, the target’s spatial location conflicted with the spatial information triggered by the irrelevant musical stimulus. These results reveal that for musical–space synesthetes, musical information automatically orients attention according to their specific spatial musical-forms. The present study demonstrates the genuineness of musical–space synesthesia by revealing its two hallmarks—automaticity and consistency. In addition, our results challenge previous findings regarding an implicit vertical representation for pitch tones in non-synesthete musicians.

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