Synaesthetes show advantages in savant skill acquisition: training calendar calculation in sequence-space synaesthesia

Hughes, James A E, Gruffydd, Elin, Simner, Julia and Ward, Jamie (2019) Synaesthetes show advantages in savant skill acquisition: training calendar calculation in sequence-space synaesthesia. Cortex, 113. pp. 67-82. ISSN 0010-9452

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Previous research has suggested that synaesthetic experiences may create the foundation for superior skills to emerge of the type found in savant syndrome (e.g., Simner, Mayo, & Spiller, 2009). People with sequence-space synaesthesia experience units of time (e.g., days, months, years) as a pattern in space, either within the mind’s eye or as a 3d projection outside of the body. Our study investigates whether sequence-space synaesthesia facilitates the learning of the savant skill known as ‘calendar calculation’ where an individual can give the correct day of the week for any given date (e.g., 18th September 1990 was a Tuesday). Using a novel experimental methodology, we trained a group of sequence-space synaesthetes as well as non-synaesthete controls how to calendar calculate over two weeks with a final calendar calculation test in the third week. We show for the first time that calendar calculation is relatively easy to acquire: following training sessions totalling one hour participants could select a day, from a set of several thousand, within ~10 seconds and with ~80% accuracy. Synaesthetes were not found to have improved abilities from the start, but they outperformed controls in our final calendar calculation test. We suggest that sequence-space synaesthesia may have provided an advantage in performing calendar calculation after the opportunity for initial learning had taken place. This supports the notion of synaesthesia as a foundation for superior, and perhaps sometimes savant-like, skills.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Sequence space synaesthesia; calendar calculation; savant syndrome
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Research Centres and Groups: Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science
Sussex Neuroscience
Depositing User: Sanjeedah Choudhury
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2019 11:23
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2019 11:23

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