Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Synesthesia is more common in autism

Date:
November 19, 2013
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
People with autism are more likely to also have synaesthesia, suggests new research in the journal Molecular Autism.

People with autism are more likely to also have synaesthesia, suggests new research in the journal Molecular Autism.

Synaesthesia involves people experiencing a 'mixing of the senses', for example, seeing colours when they hear sounds, or reporting that musical notes evoke different tastes. Autism is diagnosed when a person struggles with social relationships and communication, and shows unusually narrow interests and resistance to change. The team of scientists from Cambridge University found that whereas synaesthesia only occurred in 7.2% of typical individuals, it occurred in 18.9% of people with autism.

On the face of it, this is an unlikely result, as autism and synaesthesia seem as if they should not share anything. But at the level of the brain, synaesthesia involves atypical connections between brain areas that are not usually wired together (so that a sensation in one channel automatically triggers a perception in another). Autism has also been postulated to involve over-connectivity of neurons (so that the person over-focuses on small details but struggles to keep track of the big picture).

The scientists tested -- and confirmed -- the prediction that if both autism and synaesthesia involve neural over-connectivity, then synaesthesia might be disproportionately common in autism.

The team, led by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, tested 164 adults with an autism spectrum condition and 97 adults without autism. All volunteers were screened for synaesthesia. Among the 31 people with autism who also had synaesthesia, the most common forms of the latter were 'grapheme-colour' (18 of them reported black and white letters being seen as coloured) and 'sound-colour' (21 of them reported a sound triggering a visual experience of colour). Another 18 of them reported either tastes, pains, or smells triggering a visual experience of colour.

Professor Baron-Cohen said: "I have studied both autism and synaesthesia for over 25 years and I had assumed that one had nothing to do with the other. These findings will re-focus research to examine common factors that drive brain development in these traditionally very separate conditions. An example is the mechanism 'apoptosis,' the natural pruning that occurs in early development, where we are programmed to lose many of our infant neural connections. In both autism and synaesthesia apoptosis may not occur at the same rate, so that these connections are retained beyond infancy."

Professor Simon Fisher, a member of the team, and Director of the Language and Genetics Department at Nijmegen's Max Planck Institute, added: "Genes play a substantial role in autism and scientists have begun to pinpoint some of the individual genes involved. Synaesthesia is also thought to be strongly genetic, but the specific genes underlying this are still unknown. This new research gives us an exciting new lead, encouraging us to search for genes which are shared between these two conditions, and which might play a role in how the brain forms or loses neural connections."

Donielle Johnson, who carried out the study as part of her Master's degree in Cambridge, said: "People with autism report high levels of sensory hyper-sensitivity. This new study goes one step further in identifying synaesthesia as a sensory issue that has been overlooked in this population. This has major implications for educators and clinicians designing autism-friendly learning environments."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Simon Baron-Cohen, Donielle Johnson, Julian Asher, Sally Wheelwright, Simon E Fisher, Peter K Gregersen, Carrie Allison. Is synaesthesia more common in autism? Molecular Autism, 2013; 4 (1): 40 DOI: 10.1186/2040-2392-4-40

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Synesthesia is more common in autism." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131119193908.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2013, November 19). Synesthesia is more common in autism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131119193908.htm
University of Cambridge. "Synesthesia is more common in autism." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131119193908.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, elderly people might have trouble sleeping because of the loss of a certain group of neurons in the brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins