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Full Access Questioning the utility of the concept of amodality: Towards a revised framework for understanding crossmodal relations

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Questioning the utility of the concept of amodality: Towards a revised framework for understanding crossmodal relations

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The idea that sensory experiences should be distinguished into modal and amodal (in terms of crossmodal redundancy, rather than amodal completion) runs through many areas of psychology; developmental psychologists, in particular, appear to hold opposing views about whether infants start by having modally distinct or amodal experiences of the properties that are commonly considered to be amodal, such as space, duration, and intensity. Many other phenomena in adults — such as ‘crossmodal correspondences’ (Spence, 2011) — are deemed interesting, in part, precisely because they are not simply picking-up on amodal properties or redundantly-coded features. However, while many researchers have, over the years, used the term ‘amodal’, we would argue that there is a great deal of uncertainty over which dimensions of experience should be considered as amodal, and according to which criteria. Here, we argue that virtually nothing is amodal. To the extent that this claim holds, it may help to shed further light on early multisensory development while at the same time calling into question various theoretical accounts about both the acquisition of crossmodal relations in early development and the acquisition of novel associations (or correspondences) in adulthood. This discussion may also help to elucidate the kinds of evidence that can legitimately be taken to support arguments concerning the existence, or otherwise, of neonatal synaesthesia (see Deroy and Spence, submitted).

Affiliations: 1: 1Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, UK; 2: 2Centre for the Study of the Senses, Institute of Philosophy, London, UK

The idea that sensory experiences should be distinguished into modal and amodal (in terms of crossmodal redundancy, rather than amodal completion) runs through many areas of psychology; developmental psychologists, in particular, appear to hold opposing views about whether infants start by having modally distinct or amodal experiences of the properties that are commonly considered to be amodal, such as space, duration, and intensity. Many other phenomena in adults — such as ‘crossmodal correspondences’ (Spence, 2011) — are deemed interesting, in part, precisely because they are not simply picking-up on amodal properties or redundantly-coded features. However, while many researchers have, over the years, used the term ‘amodal’, we would argue that there is a great deal of uncertainty over which dimensions of experience should be considered as amodal, and according to which criteria. Here, we argue that virtually nothing is amodal. To the extent that this claim holds, it may help to shed further light on early multisensory development while at the same time calling into question various theoretical accounts about both the acquisition of crossmodal relations in early development and the acquisition of novel associations (or correspondences) in adulthood. This discussion may also help to elucidate the kinds of evidence that can legitimately be taken to support arguments concerning the existence, or otherwise, of neonatal synaesthesia (see Deroy and Spence, submitted).

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/content/journals/10.1163/22134808-000s0036
2013-05-16
2016-12-10

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