Enhanced Associative Memory for Colour (but Not Shape or Location) in Synaesthesia


People with grapheme-colour synaesthesia have been shown to have enhanced memory on a range of tasks using both stimuli that induce synaesthesia (e.g. words) and, more surprisingly, stimuli that do not (e.g. certain abstract visual stimuli). This study examines the latter by using multi-featured stimuli consisting of shape, colour and location conjunctions (e.g. shape A + colour A + location A; shape B + colour B + location B) presented in a recognition memory paradigm. This enables distractor items to be created in which one of these features is `unbound' with respect to the others (e.g. shape A + colour B + location A; shape A + colour A + location C). Synaesthetes had higher recognition rates suggesting an enhanced ability to bind certain visual features together into memory. Importantly, synaesthetes' false alarm rates were lower only when colour was the unbound feature, not shape or location. We suggest that synaesthetes are ``colour experts'' and that enhanced perception can lead to enhanced memory in very specific ways; but, not for instance, an enhanced ability to form associations per se. The results support contemporary models that propose a continuum between perception and memory.