Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why have memory researchers ignored the synaesthesia of some exceptional study subjects?

References about case study subject TM (Tom Morton?)

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1994) Mnemonic wizardry with the telephone directory – But stories are another story. British Journal of Psychology. Volume 85 Issue 4 November 1994 p.501-509. DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1994.tb02537.x
EBSCOHost Accession Number 9501113342
[About TM. I could find no mention of synaesthesia in this journal paper. I think it is interesting that a quote included in this paper by TM from correspondence written to the authors implies that TM believes he has an unusual ability to imagine sensory experiences: "After spending three months compiling my notes on how to develop memory by using mnemonics, I noticed and realized a major flaw and that is the fact that my method is useless to the man in the street, but is only suitable for use and understanding for those who possess a remarkable imagination in which they not only can physically visualize but can also incorporate into the image smells, tastes, sounds, textures and many other concepts."]

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1997) Superior memory. Psychology Press, 1997.
[An interesting description of TM can be found on pages 106-114, with mentions of TM on other pages as well. On page 106 there is a description of TM's coloured number and flavoured number synaesthesias, although the authors don't explicitly label it as synaesthesia, but to be fair to the authors page 106 is listed in the book index as a page covering the subject of synaesthesia. The authors note "striking" similarities between experiences reported by TM and the account of "S" (Russian synaesthete mnemonist Solomon Shereshevskii) written by A. Luria.]

Maguire, Eleanor A., Valentine, Elizabeth R., Wilding, John M. & Kapur, Narinder (2002-3) Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory. Nature Neuroscience. Volume 6 Number 1 January 2003 p.90-95.
Published online: 16 December 2002 doi:10.1038/nn988
["We therefore examined eight participants who are or have been placed at the highest levels in the World Memory Championships, as well as two other individuals studied previously for their extraordinary memory accomplishments (see reports of TE and TM in ref. 3)." Reference number three in this study is the above book, so the TM referred to in this study must be the same TM as in the book. I can find no mention in this journal paper of TM or any of this study's subjects being synesthetes. The now-famous Daniel Tammet is known to have been one of the WMC participant study subjects in this study. He has since claimed that he is a synaesthete.]

References about Jill Price (also known as AJ)

Parker, Elizabeth S., Cahill, Larry, & McGaugh, James L. (2006) A case of unusual autobiographical remembering. Neurocase. Volume
12 Issue 1 February 2006. p. 35 – 49.
[The study subject AJ described in this paper is known to be Jill Price. Her time-space synaesthesia or number form synesthesia is amply described on page 42, but the study authors don't identify it as synesthesia.]

Price, Jill & Davis, Bart (2008) The woman who can't forget: the extraordinary story of living with the most remarkable memory known to science - a memoir. Free Press, May 2008.
[Price describes her time-space synesthesia on pages 30-31.]

Simner, Julia, Mayo, Neil, Spiller, Mary-Jane (2009) A foundation for savantism? Visuo-spatial synaesthetes present with cognitive benefits. Cortex. Volume 45, issue 10, November-December 2009, Pages 1246-1260.
[AJ is discussed in this paper and identified as a synaesthete.]


usethebrains godgiveyou said...

I haven't been keeping up...too many ways to go, but have you seen this?

If you haven't already, I think you should join the Autism Research Centre's volunteer list, and see what the SOB is up to...culls his participants from the internets...aye, that's science!!

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for the info. Yes, you are right that it wouldn't be good science to solicit study subjects from the internet (or anywhere else for that matter) if the participants are self-selected, because this process will probably bias the characteristics of the group recruited. I'm not sure exactly whether this applies to this study or to this research team. It looks like they maintain a clubby group of study subjects, which seems rather questionable in itself. I would touch it with a barge pole - I've had enough of researchers and volunteering for their projects, and Cambridge is a place that I hold in low esteeem.

A quote from the study recruitment page:

"We are interested in
looking at these different abilities in people who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition and
comparing this to other groups, such as those with synaesthesia, and those from the general

And what about people who have both autism and synaesthesia? Do such people really exist? Baron-Cohen's ARC diagnosed Daniel Tammet as having both, but here they seem to discount the possibility that the two conditions can co-occur. Where's the science there?