[Paleopsych] the senses

Steve Hovland shovland at mindspring.com
Wed Mar 9 14:42:47 UTC 2005

Making music must be a totally ecstatic experience for her.

Steve Hovland

-----Original Message-----
From:	K.E. [SMTP:guavaberry at earthlink.net]
Sent:	Tuesday, March 08, 2005 7:12 PM
To:	paleo
Subject:	[Paleopsych] the senses

  Synaesthete makes sweet music


       Published online: 2 March 2005; | doi:10.1038/news050228-9
       Synaesthete makes sweet music
       Ruth Francis
       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 Jancke, 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 
recorder-playing Sulston.

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, Jancke 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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