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Ignoring Irrelevant Information: Enhanced Intermodal Attention in Synaesthetes

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Despite the fact that synaesthetes experience additional percepts during their inducer-concurrent associations that are often unrelated or irrelevant to their daily activities, they appear to be relatively unaffected by this potentially distracting information. This might suggest that synaesthetes are particularly good at ignoring irrelevant perceptual information coming from different sensory modalities. To investigate this hypothesis, the performance of a group of synaesthetes was compared to that of a matched non-synaesthete group in two different conflict tasks aimed at assessing participants’ abilities to ignore irrelevant information. In order to match the sensory modality of the task-irrelevant distractors (vision) with participants’ synaesthetic attentional filtering experience, we tested only synaesthetes experiencing at least one synaesthesia subtype triggering visual concurrents (e.g., grapheme–colour synaesthesia or sequence–space synaesthesia). Synaesthetes and controls performed a classic flanker task (FT) and a visuo-tactile cross-modal congruency task (CCT) in which they had to attend to tactile targets while ignoring visual distractors. While no differences were observed between synaesthetes and controls in the FT, synaesthetes showed reduced interference by the irrelevant distractors of the CCT. These findings provide the first direct evidence that synaesthetes might be more efficient than non-synaesthetes at dissociating conflicting information from different sensory modalities when the irrelevant modality correlates with their synaesthetic concurrent modality (here vision).

Affiliations: 1: School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, Department of Psychology, The University of Edinburgh, 7 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, UK

*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:

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