Grapheme– Colour Synaesthesia Yields an Ordinary Rather than Extraordinary Memory Advantage: Evidence from a Group Study


In synaesthesia, the input of one sensory modality automatically triggers an additional experience, not normally triggered by the input of that modality. Therefore, compared to non-synaesthetes, additional experiences exist and these may be used as retrieval cues when memory is tested. Previous case studies have suggested that synaesthesia may yield even extraordinary memory abilities. However, group studies found either a task-specific memory advantage or no performance advantage at all. The aim of the present study was to test whether grapheme-colour synaesthesia gives rise to a general memory benefit using a standardised memory test (Wechsler Memory Scale). The synaesthetes showed a performance advantage in episodic memory tests, but not in short-term memory tests. However, performance was still within the ordinary range. The results support the hypothesis that synaesthesia provides for a richer world of experience and as a consequence additional retrieval cues may be available and beneficial but not to the point of extraordinary memory ability.