Turning Univalent Stimuli Bivalent: Synesthesia Can Cause Cognitive Conflict in Task Switching


In this study we investigated whether synesthetic color experiences have similar effects as real colors in cognitive conflict adaptation. We tested 24 synesthetes and two yoke-matched control groups in a task-switching experiment that involved regular switches between three simple decision tasks (a color decision, a form decision, and a size decision). In most of the trials the stimuli were univalent, that is, specific for each task. However, occasionally, black graphemes were presented for the size decisions and we tested whether they would trigger synesthetic color experiences and thus, turn them into bivalent stimuli. The results confirmed this expectation. We were also interested in their effect for subsequent performance (i.e., the bivalency effect). The results showed that for synesthetic colors the bivalency effect was not as pronounced as for real colors. The latter result may be related to differences between synesthetes and controls in coping with color conflict.

Cognitive Neuroscience