Action, emotion, and music-colour synaesthesia: an examination of sensorimotor and emotional responses in synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes

Caroline Curwen, Renee Timmers, Andrea Schiavio

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Synaesthesia has been conceptualised as a joining of sensory experiences. Taking a holistic, embodied perspective, we investigate in this paper the role of action and emotion, testing hypotheses related to (1) changes to action-related qualities of a musical stimulus affect the resulting synaesthetic experience; (2) a comparable relationship exists between music, sensorimotor and emotional responses in synaesthetes and the general population; and (3) sensorimotor responses are more strongly associated with synaesthesia than emotion. 29 synaesthetes and 33 non-synaesthetes listened to 12 musical excerpts performed on a musical instrument they had first-hand experience playing, an instrument never played before, and a deadpan performance generated by notation software, i.e., a performance without expression. They evaluated the intensity of their experience of the music using a list of dimensions that relate to sensorimotor, emotional or synaesthetic sensations. Results demonstrated that the intensity of listeners' responses was most strongly influenced by whether or not music is performed by a human, more so than familiarity with a particular instrument. Furthermore, our findings reveal a shared relationship between emotional and sensorimotor responses among both synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes. Yet it was sensorimotor intensity that was shown to be fundamentally associated with the intensity of the synaesthetic response. Overall, the research argues for, and gives first evidence of a key role of action in shaping the experiences of music-colour synaesthesia.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological research-Psychologische forschung
Early online date15 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jul 2023

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© 2023. The Author(s).

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