[Paleopsych] the senses
guavaberry at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 9 03:11:56 UTC 2005
Synaesthete makes sweet music
Published online: 2 March 2005; | doi:10.1038/news050228-9
Synaesthete makes sweet music
Professional musician distinguishes intervals with her tongue.
A recorder player has fascinated neuroscientists with her ability to taste
differences in the intervals between notes.
The condition in which the brain links two or more of the senses is known
as synaesthesia, and some sense combinations are relatively common. But
this is the first time that the ability has been found to help in
performing a mental task, such as identifying a major third.
Elizabeth Sulston was at school when she first noticed that she saw colours
while hearing music. She realized that the same was not true of her peers,
although linkage of tone and colour is a known synaesthetic combination.
As she began to learn music more formally, she found that when hearing
particular tone intervals she experienced a characteristic taste on her
tongue. For example, a minor third tasted salty to her, whereas a minor
sixth tasted like cream. She started to use the tastes to help her
recognize different chords.
Talking to news at nature.com, she says: "I always had the synaesthesia, but
really became conscious of it at 16. Then I started to use it for the
tone-interval identification. I could first check it by counting the space
between the notes, and second by 'feeling' my tongue."
The taste of music
Lutz Jäncke, a neuroscientist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland,
works with musicians who report unusual qualities or skills. Thanks to a
student investigating synaesthesia he was introduced to the
To test her unique ability, he and his colleagues played tone intervals
while delivering different tastes to her tongue. They used either the same
taste that Sulston associates with an interval, or a clashing one.
They found that she was able to identify the intervals much more quickly
when the taste matched the one that she says she normally associates with
it. That kind of pattern would be difficult to fake, Jäncke says. He
reports the results in Nature1.
"With incongruent taste she was sometimes slower than other musicians; she
is extraordinarily quick usually," he says. "The synaesthesia is kind of
boosting her performance. Her hit rate was perfect, but the difference was
in the reaction times."
Full Text at Nature
The tongue has taste buds only for sweet, sour, bitter and salt. Most of
her taste sensations fall just on these four, but the girl also reports
'mown grass', 'disgust', 'pure water', 'cream' and 'low fat cream'. These
could be combinations and relative intensities of the taste bud sensations,
or a combination of olfaction and taste, which would be considerably more
complex than taste alone. It seems more likely that taste alone is
involved, and that interpretations of taste a subconscious associations
acting to enhance the raw taste sensation.
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