Do children with grapheme-colour synaesthesia show cognitive benefits?

img 2018, British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953

Simner Julia, Bain Angela E

Grapheme-colour synaesthesia is characterized by conscious and consistent associations between letters and colours, or between numbers and colours (e.g., synaesthetes might see A as red, 7 as green). Our study explored the development of this condition in a group of randomly sampled child synaesthetes. Two previous studies (Simner & Bain, 2013, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 603; Simner, Harrold, Creed, Monro, & Foulkes, 2009, Brain, 132, 57) had screened over 600 primary school children to find the first randomly sampled cohort of child synaesthetes. In this study, we evaluate this cohort to ask whether their synaesthesia is associated with a particular cognitive profile of strengths and/or weaknesses. We tested our child synaesthetes at age 10-11 years in a series of cognitive tests, in comparison with matched controls and baseline norms. One previous study (Green & Goswami, 2008, Cognition, 106, 463) had suggested that child synaesthetes might perform differently to non-synaesthetes in such tasks, although those participants may have been a special type of population independent of their synaesthesia. In our own study of randomly sampled child synaesthetes, we found no significant advantages or disadvantages in a receptive vocabulary test and a memory matrix task. However, we found that synaesthetes demonstrated above-average performance in a processing-speed task and a near-significant advantage in a letter-span task (i.e., memory/recall task of letters). Our findings point to advantages for synaesthetes that go beyond those expected from enhanced coding accounts and we present the first picture of the broader cognitive profile of a randomly sampled population of child synaesthetes.

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