Survival of the synesthesia gene: why do people hear colors and taste words?

PLoS Biology
David Brang, V S Ramachandran

Abstract

Synesthesia is a perceptual experience in which stimuli presented through one modality will spontaneously evoke sensations in an unrelated modality. The condition occurs from increased communication between sensory regions and is involuntary, automatic, and stable over time. While synesthesia can occur in response to drugs, sensory deprivation, or brain damage, research has largely focused on heritable variants comprising roughly 4% of the general population. Genetic research on synesthesia suggests the phenomenon is heterogeneous and polygenetic, yet it remains unclear whether synesthesia ever provided a selective advantage or is merely a byproduct of some other useful selected trait. Progress in uncovering the genetic basis of synesthesia will help us understand why synesthesia has been conserved in the population.

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