Do graphemes attract spatial attention in grapheme-color synesthesia?

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Abstract

Grapheme-color synesthetes perceive concurrent colors for some objectively achromatic graphemes (inducers). Using oscillatory responses in the electroencephalogram, we tested the hypothesis that inducers automatically attract spatial attention and, thus, favor a conscious experience of color. Achromatic inducers and real-colored non-inducers were presented to the left or to the right visual hemifield and orientation judgments were required for subsequently presented Gabor patches. The graphemes were irrelevant for the task so that the related brain response was purely stimulus-driven. Synesthetes (n =12), but not an equal number of controls, showed an early theta power increase for inducers presented to the right compared to the left hemifield, with sources in left fusiform gyrus. Alpha power asymmetries indicative of shifts of spatial attention were not observed. Together, synesthetes showed an increased responsiveness to inducers in grapheme processing areas. However, contrary to our hypothesis, inducers did not attract spatial attention in synesthetes.

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