Welcome to Synaesthesia research

Our research interests are many and varied. Read on to find out what we're up to.

Genetics of Synaesthesia

Synaesthesia often runs in families, yet little is known about its genetic origins. In collaboration with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, we are aiming to conduct the first genome wide association study (GWAS) into synaesthesia, which will hopefully shed light on the genetic basis of synaesthesia and help us understand how synaesthesia develops.

Mapping the Brain Connectome of Synaesthesia

We are creating the first openly available repository of synaesthetic brain images (obtained with MRI), that can be freely used by researchers from around the world.  We have scanned 100 people with a variety of kinds of synaesthesia and given them a comprehensive battery of other measures.  Data analysis is ongoing and we are excited to see what we find!

Synaesthesia across the Lifespan – the MULTISENSE project

Most research into synaesthesia has been carried out with (young) adult participants. As a consequence, not much is known about synaesthesia in childhood or later in life. Our MULTISENSE project seeks to explore how synaesthesia develops in childhood and how it may change in later life. To complement this research into synaesthesia, we are also investigating lifespan development of multisensory processing in non-synaesthetes, which will allow us to make comparisons between synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes.

Synaesthesia and Cognitive Abilities

The kinds of cognitive abilities we are studying include memory, attention-to-detail, creativity, and musicality.  We are interested to know whether these abilities are found for all kinds of synaesthesia or only some, and we are interested to know why such differences might occur. 

Synaesthesia, Health and Wellbeing

Although synaesthesia itself is not normally problematic, the differences (in genes and brains) that give rise to synaesthesia might have other knock-on effects.  For example, synaesthesia and some symptoms of autism often co-occur and we are interested to know why. 

Vicarious Perception of Pain and Touch

Until the beginning of the last decade the human perception of touch and pain were thought to be private perceptual processes. However, through the use of imaging and neural stimulation techniques, research has shown that regions of the somatosensory cortex and of the pain matrix may follow a mirror based model of vicarious perception. Whereby observations of other people experiencing touch and pain elicit activation in corresponding neural regions involved in private processing. Although it has been established there is still much debate as to how and why this vicarious activation operates. The study of individuals with related neurological conditions, specifically mirror-touch synaesthesia and pain synaesthesia, may help better us understand this vicarious perception. Individuals with these conditions vividly experience observed pain and touch as if it where emanating from their own bodies. At Sussex we are attempting to build on knowledge in the field through development of techniques to reveal the nature of vicarious touch, pain and emotional pain. This includes; the exploration of neural regions involved, the influence of contexts and individual differences and the prevalence and characteristics of mirror-touch and pain synesthetes.