Tag Archives: Journal of Neuroscience

New developmental prosopagnosia research hot off the web

While I was looking at the website of the Journal of Neuroscience I found this interesting and important free access article:

Michael Lohse, Lucia Garrido, Jon Driver, Raymond J. Dolan, Bradley C. Duchaine, and Nicholas Furl Effective Connectivity from Early Visual Cortex to Posterior Occipitotemporal Face Areas Supports Face Selectivity and Predicts Developmental Prosopagnosia. Journal of Neuroscience. 30 March 2016, 36(13): 3821-3828; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3621-15.2016

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/13/3821.full.pdf+html

What is face selectivity? I’ll have to do a bit of study on that.

For me the findings of this study are not surprising, even though there are apparently new ideas in this paper about face selectivity and developmental prosopagnosia (DP). As a synaesthete who also appears to be a “super-recognizer” of faces from a family in which precociously high levels of literacy skills are found, I firmly believe that the common thread that runs through synaesthesia, literacy skills and face memory is good to exceptional connectivity inside the brain. My ideas are supported by research that has linked synaesthesia with hyper-connectivity, and has linked dyslexia and DP with problems with connectivity.

Interesting research on synapses and the neurobiology of forgetting supports model of dementia that appears to compete with mine

The role of GluA2-containing AMPA receptors in sustaining long-term memories and in natural forgetting has been studied by an international team of researchers. They and other researchers have speculated that this process could be involved in the development of dementia. I think they are wrong. I believe that there is a distinction between normal, adaptive forgetting and the forgetfulness of dementia that results from the destruction of the brain. I have previously in this blog outlined my original ideas about the immune system, complement, synaptic pruning and a type of dementia that goes by the names of PCa or Benson’s syndrome. My money is still on high levels of complement as the prime suspect for dementia of the rear parts of the brain. Regarding Alzheimer’s, I still favour the “Prion Hypothesis” but I also understand that obesity and diabetes 2 can damage the brain. Nevertheless, I still find this recently-published piece of research interesting because it seems to shows that forgetting isn’t just the failure of some process, it is a process in itself. I also find it interesting that real memory researchers don’t write about or make sweeping statements about memory in general, they study and write about specific types of memory.

Paddock, Catharine Brain study yields clues about ‘natural forgetting of long-term memories’ http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308549.php

Paola Virginia Migues, Lidong Liu, Georgina E. B. Archbold, Einar Ö. Einarsson, Jacinda Wong, Kyra BonasiaSeung Hyun Ko, Yu Tian Wang, and Oliver Hardt Blocking Synaptic Removal of GluA2-Containing AMPA Receptors Prevents the Natural Forgetting of Long-Term Memories. Journal of Neuroscience.  23 March 2016, 36(12):34813494; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3333-15.2016

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/12/3481.short?sid=e7babe8d-7f41-4f13-91ca-ae7f9a68afa0

 

The fusiform face area doesn’t just do faces

Tolga Çukur, Alexander G. Huth, Shinji Nishimoto and Jack L. Gallant

Functional Subdomains within Human FFA.

Journal of Neuroscience.

16 October 2013  33(42) p.16748-16766

doi: 10.1523/​JNEUROSCI.1259-13.2013

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/42/16748.abstract

As I’ve pointed out before at this blog, I believe that my high ability in face memory is accompanied by higher than average ability in recognizing or remembering the appearance of other types of things, such as body parts, words, cars, plant species, colours and probably other things as well. What this means in practice is that I’m a pretty good speller, reader and writer, I’m great at remembering and recognize faces (even if I can’t always put a name to the face and I don’t always acknowledge that I’ve recognized a person), and I’m also very good at identifiying plants and skilled at categorizing them as weeds or wild native plants or exotic garden varieties, because I can be confident that I know exactly which species the plant is, based on recognizing the shapes and colours of plants. I also believe that high ability in visual memory for many categories of things runs in my family, and I offer this as an explanation for why extraordinary test results for literacy skills and also literacy-related careers seem to run in one lineage in my family. I contrast this genetic literacy gift with an opposite condition which I have also seen running in some families, in which people struggle to express themselves in print, write in a style that mimicks speech and not the writing of others, consistently spell in a way that looks like random phonetic guessing, and who appear to have no ability to remember the way that correctly-spelled words look. If the fusiform face area (FFA) in the fusiform gyrus in the brain is the place that “does” face visual memory and plant visual memory and word visual memory, then having a good one is a definite advantage in many ways.

Is synaesthesia caused by low levels of complement? Is Benson’s syndrome (PCA) caused by too much complement C3? Could synesthesia and posterior cortical atrophy be considered in some way opposites?

A note of warning – If you are thinking about copying or plagiarizing any of the text, ideas or descriptions in this post and using it as your own work without giving me (C. Wright, author of the blog “Am I a Super-recognizer?”) the proper acknowledgement and citations, then think again. If you do that you will be found out and you will regret it. If you want to make reference to this post or any of the ideas in it make sure that you state in your work exactly where you first read about these ideas. If you wish to quote any text from this post be sure to cite this post at this blog properly. There are many established citation methods. If you quote or make reference to material in this blog in your work, it would be a common courtesy to let me know about your work (I’m interested!) in a comment on any of the posts in this blog. Thank you.

Top of C3 theory post

A quote from New Scientist magazine about a study of microglia responding to changes in synaptic function in mice by Assistant Professor Beth Stevens and colleagues:

“Synapses were marked out for destruction through labelling with an immune chemical called C3”

Immune cells gobble up healthy but idle brain cells. 1 June 2012 by Andy Coghlan New Scientst. Magazine issue 2867. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21428675.500-immune-cells-gobble-up-healthy-but-idle-brain-cells.html

A quote about her research at Prof Stevens’ professional web page:

“C1q and downstream complement proteins target synapses and are required for synapse elimination in the developing visual system.”

Beth Stevens, PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital http://www.childrenshospital.org/cfapps/research/data_admin/Site2674/mainpageS2674P0.html

A quote from Wikipedia about synaesthesia:

“This cross-activation may arise due to a failure of the normal developmental process of pruning, which is one of the key mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, in which connections between brain regions are partially eliminated with development.”

Wikipedia contributors Neural basis of synesthesia.  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 May 2012, 01:45 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Neural_basis_of_synesthesia&oldid=494244732

A quote from Wikipedia about Benson’s syndrome or Posterior Cortical Atrophy:

“The disease causes atrophy of the back (posterior) part of the cerebral cortex, resulting in the progressive disruption of complex visual processing.

Wikipedia contributors Posterior cortical atrophy Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 February 2012, 22:34 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Posterior_cortical_atrophy&oldid=475033670

Two quotes by me from this blog:

“The idea that I have something like the opposite of Benson’s syndrome would neatly draw together all the elements of some odd phenomena that I have observed over a number of years…”

“I guess the million-dollar question is  – why does Benson’s syndrome affect only some specific parts of the brain? What is it about a certain group of areas of the brain that appear to make these areas prone to hyperconnectivity in some families, and vulnerable to dysfunction in Benson’s syndrome? Is there some magic chemical or process that regulates growth in these areas of the brain? I doubt that the answer could be so simple.”

The Opposite of Benson’s Syndrome? by C. Wright Am I a Super-recognizer? January 4, 2011. https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/the-opposite-of-bensons-syndrome/

My doubt has suddenly evaporated! Could complement be the “magic chemical”? Where’s my Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine?

The DOI link in the New Scientist article discussed above doesn’t work, but I’m quite sure this is the journal paper that the article is about:

Dorothy P. Schafer, Emily K. Lehrman, Amanda G. Kautzman, Ryuta Koyama, Alan R. Mardinly, Ryo Yamasaki, Richard M. Ransohoff, Michael E. Greenberg, Ben A. Barres, Beth Stevens Microglia Sculpt Postnatal Neural Circuits in an Activity and Complement-Dependent Manner. Neuron. Volume 74 Issue 4 691-705, 24 May 2012. 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.03.026 http://www.cell.com/neuron/retrieve/pii/S0896627312003340

A number of other interesting journal papers can be found through Prof. Steven’s web page, some available to read in full text (if you can find the button to click on in the top right corner of the PubMed page). I also found a recently published item by Stevens and colleagues that looks like it is about the same subject as the New Scientist article, published in a conference abstract supplement of the journal Schizophrenia Research, which is a bit of a mystery as I didn’t think the title suggested schizophrenia. You need to pay to read the full text, which I didn’t. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0920996412700397

Here’s something else to read, if you’re keen. You can read the whole thing for free:

Marie-Ève Tremblay, Beth Stevens, Amanda Sierra, Hiroaki Wake, Alain Bessis and Axel Nimmerjahn The Role of Microglia in the Healthy Brain. Journal of Neuroscience. 9 November 2011, (45): 16064-16069; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4158-11.2011  http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/45/16064.long

 

C3, C4, C5....

C3, C4, C5….

Just found interesting paper about Williams syndrome and the fusiform face area

It appears that having a fusiform face area (FFA) that is twice the normal size does not give people with Williams syndrome (WS) super powers of face recognition or expression recognition, but I’m not sure we can be completely sure that people with Williams do not have any special gift in reading faces, as other researchers have found fault with the test that was used in this study to measure face recognition ability. Williams syndrome is a genetic syndrome that is associated with  intellectual deficits, “heightened emotionality”, “hypersociability” and a special love of music. Dr Oliver Sacks wrote an interesting chapter about Williams syndrome in his book Musicophilia. I do not have Williams syndrome, and this syndrome does not run in my family. One thing that I do believe that I and some family members share in common with people who have Williams syndrome is our great love of music, despite a lack of musical education or training.

“The atypically large FFA volume that we found in WS was positively correlated with apparently normal performance levels on a standardized face-identity recognition task (Benton test) in the same participants. This finding is analogous to electrophysiological reports of atypically large N200 in WS, which is correlated with performance on the Benton test (Mills et al., 2000). However, in our experiments, the correlation between rFFA size and Benton scores reached statistical significance only after excluding two WS participants with the noisiest BOLD signals. The similarity in the mean performance across TD and WS in the Benton test may be due to insufficient sensitivity of the Benton test in detecting subtle variations in face-recognition proficiency (Duchaine and Nakayama, 2004).”

Has anyone ever done a study in which people who have Williams syndrome have been given the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT)? I’d love to read that.

Golijeh Golarai, Sungjin Hong, Brian W. Haas, Albert M. Galaburda, Debra L. Mills, Ursula Bellugi, Kalanit Grill-Spector & Allan L. Reiss The Fusiform Face Area is Enlarged in Williams Syndrome. Journal of Neuroscience. 12 May 2010, 30(19): 6700-6712; doi: 10.1523/​JNEUROSCI.4268-09.2010
http://www.jneurosci.org/content/30/19/6700.full

Duchaine, Bradley & Nakayama, Ken Developmental prosopagnosia and the Benton Facial Recognition Test. Neurology. April 13, 2004 vol. 62 no. 7 1219-1220. doi: 10.1212/01.WNL.0000118297.03161.B3 http://www.neurology.org/content/62/7/1219.abstract

“The Benton Facial Recognition Test is used for clinical and research purposes, but evidence suggests that it is possible to pass the test with impaired face discrimination abilities.”

Super-recognizer test? Forget it mate!

I’ve noticed that quite consistently searches that lead people to this blog appear to be people searching for a test relevant to being a super-recognizer, which is a person who has an elite level of ability in recognizing faces, a most useful skill in many ways, and a skill that would be relevant to a number of jobs. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who is hoping to gain access to a super-recognizer test, but the fact is that I only know of one test that I know enough about it to say that it could decisively separate super-recognizers from simply good face recognizers, and I have been unsuccessfully been trying to gain access to that test since September of 2010. The test is the Before They Were Famous Test (BTWF), and it was one of the two face recognition tests that were used in the study that was written-up in the science journal paper that launched the concept of the super-recognizer in 2009. I’d love to get to do the BTWF Test, even though there would most likely be subtle cultural differences that might impair my performance on that test. I believe the BTWF Test is a test that uses the faces of celebrities, and I’m sure it was created outside of Australia, and so I would assume that those celebrities would not include any Australian celebrities, and I am an Australian. Nevertheless, I was keen to have a go at this test. I was so keen that I volunteered as a study subject at a local Australian university’s psychology department to do some face recognition tests. To cut a long story short, I got to do two other tests, but not the BTWF Test, and I’m still many months later waiting to be told of the results of one of those tests. Just to explain my interest in face recognition – in 2010 I got a surprise after finding that I got perfect scores on the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT) and also the Famous Faces test, and then I realised that I could well be a super-recognizer. I’ve been messed around so much by Australian and overseas academics that I don’t think I’d trust them enough to do any further participation in research, and I think there is something strange about the way that I’ve been dealt with by researchers in the area of face recognition.

I find it a curious fact that of all of the researchers who I’ve told that I am a synaesthete and am willing to provide test results that show it and I also suspect that I’m a super-recognizer, not one, including the university researcher whom I’ve met first-hand, has asked to see any of my test results regarding face memory or synaesthesia. Anyone with some familiarity with the published literature about synaesthesia would surely figure that super-recognizing could well be another cognitive advantage associated with synaesthesia. Do face recognition researchers lack a basic knowledge of synaesthesia research, another area of the neuropsychology of sensory perception? Surely not. Perhaps I have misunderstood the nature of the work that university researchers do. Their job is to do highly structured research studies, with the aim of getting their reports of those studies published in science journals with a good reputation and status. I believe there is considerable pressure to achieve this and do it as often as possible. So perhaps one should not be surprised to find that researchers are only interested in non-academic, non-student people if they can fill the role of being a standardized study subject.

I believe that study subjects like me who do not conform to what appears to be the current scientific view of super-recognizers as “simply the high end of a broad distribution of face recognition ability” (Russell, Duchaine & Nakayama 2009), people like me who are synaesthetes and who score very high in tests of face recognition, are a threat to the current academic status quo, in which the conventional view is that atypical or abnormal brain structure or brain function is associated with deficits in face recognition, and good face recognition ability is taken to be a marker for normality and health and all things nice. A great many studies of face recognition have been inspired by the idea that poor ability to recognize faces and facial expressions are fundamental features of autism. Autism research is supposed to be very well-funded. Studies of face recognition that are promoted as research into the causes of autism would, I guess, attract funding. While not all autistic people are synaesthetes and not all synaesthetes are autistic, there does appear to be some type of link between autism and synaesthesia, so the idea that synaesthetes should be poor at face recognition would be consistent with the above theoretical framework. In fact, the idea that there might be a link between synaesthesia and prosopagnosia appears to be quite a common belief among academics and interested ordinary people. This is based on anecdotes and some very speculative early writing about synaesthesia. So finding a synaesthete super-recognizer who is also very good at identifying facial expressions could upset this apple cart. In any case, those nice red shiny apples seem to be destined for a bruising because of ideas that are being explored by some synaesthesia researchers who are contrasting rather than linking synaesthesia with poor face recognition and other agnosias (Mitchell 2011) or are finding connections between various types of synaesthesia and various types of enhanced perception (Banissy, Garrido et al 2011; Banissy, Walsh & Ward 2009).

The other test of face recognition that was used in the study described in Russell, Duchaine and Nakayama’s 2009 paper about super-recognizers was the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT), which comes in a short and a long form. Both the short and long form are used in that study. It appears that the long form of this test was created to measure a wider range of face recognition abilities, but as can easily be seen in the paper, the long form was quite a failure in this respect. Non-super-recognizers did not fall a long way behind super-recognizers in the CFMT Long Form that much more than they did in the CFMT Short Form. Basically, super-recognizers got perfect of near-perfect scores in the 72 question CFMT Short Form, which is freely available to do over the internet, but a couple of other study subjects also got close to perfect scores in the CFMT.

So, the only thing that I can recommend to anyone who wants to know if they are a super-recognizer is to have a crack at the CFMT, read about the experiences of super-recognizers, and you might also wish to consider whether you have synaesthesia or have any brain-based special abilities or talents such as perfect pitch or high IQ. The Synesthesia Battery is a test for a number of colour-related types of synaesthesia. And remember, the whole concept of the “super-recognizer” is a thing that some academics only recently came up with. I believe the official view of super-recognizers is that they (we?) are only the extreme end of a bell curve representing natural variation in one area of ability. I personally believe that super-recognizers are probably qualitatively different from others rather than merely being quantitatively different – I believe super-recognizer ability could be an effect of synaesthesia or local hyperconnectivity, but I still wouldn’t like to say at what cut-off point in test scores super-recognizers can be identified.

P.S. December 2011

It appears that the CFMT is no longer available from two of the websites that I have linked to, and the only freely available online access to the CFMT is probably through a research study done by researchers at the MIT:  http://facetoface.mit.edu/   If you live in or near London then you might be able to go along to the superrecognizers study currently being conducted at the Science Museum by researchers from the Uni of East London and do some tests as study subjects:  http://www.superrecognizers.com/

I have tried contacting professional psychologists in WA who have private practices to see if any of them can offer access to any face recognition testing. I found a general lack of comprehension, and it appears that they generally haven’t heard of prosopagnosia, let alone super-recognizers. Apparently there is some face memory or face recognition test that is an element of an IQ test and/or vocational aptitude testing. I have not been given any details about this test or tests, and God only knows if it is of any value. There are a number of old face recognition tests, but it appears that the CFMT and the BTWF tests are the only ones that are cheat-proof and currently used by face recognition researchers. I’ve never heard of either of these tests being used as elements of vocational or IQ testing, but who knows?

The idea that superior face recognition ability could be important in employment is an idea that has been proven to be true in the case of police work, a documented example would be the elite squad of super-recognizer police officers in London’s Metropolitan Police force, which was the subject of an interesting article in the UK’s Sunday Times in November 2011. Despite the proven utility of superrecognizers in at least one important job, the idea that this is a valuable work skill appears to be an idea well ahead of our times here in sleepy Western Australia, where our time zone is two years behind the rest of the Anglophone world (except in mining). There is not only the issue that we are behind the times here, there is also the big issue of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias recognized in psychology “in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes”, to quote from Wikipedia. The Dunning-Kruger effect can also negatively affect capable people, in the opposite way “Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.” So incompetent people can have unjustified self-confidence while more capable people can under-estimate their relative superiority as a result of being ignorant or deceived about the actual level of ability of others. I would argue that the Dunning-Kruger effect is very applicable to face recognition ability. I’m sure there are many people with milder developmental prosopagnosia who don’t understand their disability, and I know myself that I never thought of myself as having superior face memory until I tried some online face recognition tests in the pursuit of any clue to the mystery of The Strange Phenomenon. I believe the full extent of the problem goes beyond not understanding one’s self. I believe that only a super-recognizer is able to understand the possibilities and advantages of this very specific type of superior visual processing. I’ve found that many people who I’ve spoken to about super-recognizers doubt that any human could perform better than current face recognition technology, an assumption that appears to be incorrect, and is probably based on ignorance. It should be clear to anyone that good face recognition ability is an essential requirement in policing and has uses in security and detective work, but I doubt that most people would guess that super-recognizing could have medical applications, can be more useful than current face recognition technology and might also have applications in tasks that involve identifying kinship relationships, possibly to do with tracing lost relatives or family history research. To independently realise all of this, a person would have to see what a super-recognizer sees, an experience that is denied to most people. If most people, including most psychologists, have no idea of the possible utility of super-recognizing, why would anyone bother testing for it or identifying it?

If you suspect that you might be a super-recognizer, and wish to have this tested and certified by a professional psychologist or have it verified by participating in university research done by a recognized expert in the field of face recognition, I hope you live in London. Your only other option appears to be taking a look at the MIT study, and taking a screen-shot print-out of any test results. Good luck!

References

Banissy, Michael J., Garrido, Lucia, Kusnir, Flor, Duchaine, Bradley, Walsh, Vincent & Ward, Jamie Superior Facial Expression, But Not Identity Recognition, in Mirror-Touch Synesthesia. Journal of Neuroscience. February 2, 2011, 31(5):1820-1824. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5759-09.2011 http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/abstract/31/5/1820

Banissy, Michael J., Walsh, Vincent & Ward, Jamie Enhanced sensory perception in synaesthesia. Experimental Brain Research. 2009 Jul;196(4):565-71. Epub 2009 Jun 17. http://www.springerlink.com/content/406581u3507un270/   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19533108

Grimston, Jack Eagle-Eye of the Yard can spot rioters by their ears. Sunday Times, The, 20.11.2011, p12,13-12,13, 1; Language: EN Section: News Edition: 01 EBSCOhost Accession number 7EH53940939 http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/  This interesting article is behind a paywall, so you might try EBSCOHost from your local piblic library.

Mitchell, Kevin J. Curiouser and curiouser: genetic disorders of cortical specialization. Current Opinion in Genetics and Development. 2011 Feb 4. [Epub ahead of print]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21296568?dopt=Abstract

Russell, Richard, Yue, Xiaomin, Nakayama, Ken and Tootell, Roger B. H.  Neural differences between developmental prosopagnosics and super-recognizers.Journal of Vision. August 6, 2010 vol. 10 no. 7 article 582 doi: 10.1167/10.7.582http://www.journalofvision.org/content/10/7/582.short

Russell R, Duchaine B, Nakayama K Super-recognizers: people with extraordinary face recognition ability. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.2009 Apr;16(2):252-7. http://pbr.psychonomic-journals.org/content/16/2/252.full.pdf

Wikipedia contributors Dunning–Kruger effect. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect&oldid=466983876

Tests

MIT’s Face to Face Online Study http://facetoface.mit.edu/

“Test My Memory” from Faceblind.org – used to offer the CFMT in the past http://www.faceblind.org/facetests/

“Test My Brain” – used to offer the CFMT in the past, could try the 5 minute “Famous Faces” test http://www.testmybrain.org/

BBC Science Face Memory Test – this test no substitute for the CFMT http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/tmt/

The Synesthesia Battery http://www.synesthete.org/

Further reading about my dealings with psychology researchers:

Science Week 2011 – The world of science and me in the past year   https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/science-week-2011-%E2%80%93-the-world-of-science-and-me-in-the-past-year/

Report on my fine motor task -> visual place memory synaesthesia

This report should also be read along with my earlier posting titled I’ve got my chits together published at https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/252/

This report revised on 23rd Feb 2011 to add another observation, with more comments added February 26th 2011

Total number of observations of experiences of automatically experienced visual memories (seen in my mind’s eye) of place scenes from my past evoked by doing learned fine-motor household and everyday chores with my hands70

Records of triggers only3

Records of place visual memories evoked only 2

Period of time in which I have been recording these experiencesyears, how many unknown. (I regret that I did not think to add dates of observations to my written records on chits of paper).

Number of sets of the same triggers and experiences that have been recorded more than once only 4 (these sets have only been recorded twice, none any more than twice)

Descriptions of these four confirmed sets

  1. Carefully patting the ends of softening uncooked spaghetti into a saucepan of boiling water to make sure it goes into the water and cooks evenly and separately –> a scene of a streetscape with specific buildings in a back-street part of Fremantle, visited once with a friend years ago (friend worked there once).
  2. Browning cubes of meat in hot oil in a saucepan using a wooden spoon to turn and brown the meat while making curry or stew –> the Ogden’s restaurant on Stirling Highway in Cottesloe that I visited with family many years ago, in which customers could cook their own thick steaks and meats and seafood on a hot grill. Interestingly, I also have records of this same cooking chore evoking visual memories of two other places – some back streets of Joondanna and a part of Stock Road near where the Stock Road markets used to be. These places have no obvious connection with cooking or beef.
  3. Turning bacon over in frypan which is sticking, using an egg flipper -> semi-rural residential street that led to some popular waterfall in the hills.
  4. Trimming nails with nail scissors -> the street where I lived in my childhood/the other end of the street where I lived as a child (not the end where we lived). This is another trigger that has evoked four different scenes, the other scenes being a bush scene of a scenic but isolated road route from Perth to the Wheatbelt, and a humped narrow wooden traffic bridge at the end of the main CBD of Mandurah as it was in the 1970s or maybe the 1980s. There is no apparent thematic connection between any of these places and the chore.

Number of close but inexact matches between sets of triggers and scenes3

Descriptions of inexact matches

  1. Scraping the very last bits of peanut paste from the side of a plastic jar with a knife -> an image of Leighton Beach and this chore also evoked thinking about the concept of “The Pushbike Song” which was an Australian hit in the 1970s when I was a young child. Leighton Beach is a place that I’ve rarely swum at, but have ridden past on a bicycle a few times, in North Fremantle. The exact same chore trigger has also evoked a scene of an area of North Fremantle between Stirling Hwy and the limestone cliffs along the Swan River, an area which I once explored at least 20 years ago on a bicycle. There are obvious connections between the places evoked (both in North Freo) and the memory and the concept of riding a bicycle. This is one of many observations that demonstrate that thinking about concepts and places are very much inter-connected in my brain.
  2. Picking out the darkest, crunchiest French fry from a pack from McDonalds -> the staircase in the home of our next-door neighbours from when I was a child. Plucking carefully selected chips from a packet of potato crisps -> scene of that same staircase, as it looked back in the 1970s. The fastidious chip selection also evokes thoughts of the concept of deliberately offensive and confronting performance and conceptual art. Obviously these two triggers are very similar, and the scenes evoked are the same, but there is no apparent link between the triggers and the scenes. It is also far from obvious how the offensive art might be connected with these other things. Maybe I have always thought of our past next-door neighbours as the archetypal nice, respectable, middle-class, religious people who would be deeply offended by such art. My family didn’t deserve to have such nice neighbours, and they certainly didn’t deserve to have us living next door.
  3. Peeling paper off of a 250g butter pat, as used in baking, and cutting up chunks of butter with a butter knife while weighing it for baking are two chores that both evoke a scene of the exact same area on the top floor of a shopping centre that I visited 30 or so years ago, at the top of the escalator near a Jeans West shop.

Many of these observed sets of triggers and scenes appear to be related within categories:

Buttering crumbly scones -> an ugly back street of Wanneroo near the Wanneroo Showgrounds

Buttering toast -> an old fuel station on Wanneroo Road, not far from above location

The wiping of a little baby’s bottom and the wiping of a toddler’s bigger bottom during nappy changing trigger scenes of two WA regional locations, at Geraldton and a camping spot between Lancelin and Jurien.

Hand-washing laundry chore movements such as scrubbing, swooshing water down the sink and turning on taps evoke a number of scenes around Fremantle and also two dreary regional cities (Bunbury WA and Mackay QLD).

Stirring saucepan chores evoke scenes of Armadale and Kelmscott, adjacent SE Perth suburbs that I’m not that keen on.

Number of identical chores evoking completely different scenes 1 (beating in sugar gradually while making a pavlova with a power mixer –> scene of the front of the kindergarten that I attended (but did not enjoy) and a scene of an area near a maternity hospital, these scenes are in two different suburbs.

Number of identical scenes evoked by different chores 1 (this scene also automatically triggered thinking about an outdated concept that is logically related to the scene of a now-derelict place as it looked when it operated in the 1970s)

Number of triggers that have evoked scenes and also thinking about specific concepts (Domino Effect Synaesthesia) – 4

Number of scenes evoked by chores that are also evoked by thinking about a specific concept 2 (I have a collection of observations of memories of scenes being triggered by thinking about specific concepts.)

Types of triggers include food preparation chores, laundry hand-washing, grooming, nappy change, hair, makeup. Only 1 trigger from a task performed outside the home – swiping a bank card through an EFTPOS machine.

Types of scenes evoked include many places from early childhood, but not all of the places from my childhood. A scene from our neighbours’ home is evoked, but no scenes of my own childhood home. The church attended sporadically during boring primary school religion classes (“scripture”) is “seen”, but there are no scenes of the church that I attended with my family regularly on Sundays. Areas in the vicinity of homes that I used to live in years ago are well represented, as are homes of friends and family visited now and then many years ago (people and places that in some cases no longer exist). Also places visited for fun long ago but not recently are well represented, such as Fremantle. Interstate and WA regional places that I have visited alone as an adult or with family as a child or teen are well represented, but places interstate that I visited with a boyfriend many years ago are noticeably not evoked by this synaesthesia.

Memories in the vicinity of both of the Perth area showgrounds that I have ever visited are evoked – the Claremont and the Wanneroo Showgrounds. Showgrounds are a peculiar type of place, I visit them occasionally and unpredictably but not regularly, and they don’t change much (the neglect of these places is obvious), so memorizing them well at each visit is useful. When I last visited the Claremont Showgrounds during a music festival I could not resist the urge to walk about in the summer heat and crowds, looking at all of the areas that were open to the public.

Three dull regional WA locations are among scenes evoked by this synaesthesia , as are two interstate dull regional places (Bowen and Mackay). A good proportion of the places evoked are places that I have visited only once. All of the scenes evoked are very specific, scenes that one could see by looking in one direction while standing in one place. These are not the concepts of places or street names, they are actual visual scenes. The places evoked are not as uniformly dull or depressing as I had expected them to be. Some quite pleasant locations in Fremantle are evoked.

Scenes that are NOT evoked include my own past or present homes, shopping centres that I currently shop at, homes of close family members that I have visited regularly, the high schools that I attended (my high school years were a stressful time in my life), any of the past or present homes of my best friend (who I have been in contact with since early childhood), or the best places in WA, Perth or interstate that I have visited. Clearly there is a pattern in the type of places that are and are not evoked by this phenomenon. This phenomenon does not evoke visual memories of places that I am or have been keen to revisit, or places that I have revisited frequently, or places that I presently anticipate revisiting often. Clearly there is an important area of the brain that encodes these place memories that is not connected at all with this phenomenon. Clearly I have place memories stored in two different and separate parts of the brain, one operating like the stack of a library, the other operating like the main lending shelves of a library. Clearly there is some process by which my visual memories of places are sorted into two different categories. A recently published journal paper titled Sleep selectively enhances memory expected to be of future relevance indicates that a person’s expectations about memories can affect the way those memories are stored in the brain (Wilhelm et al 2011). It appears that sleep selectively enhances some other specific types of memories, so clearly “memories aint memories”.

Interstate places that I visited when I was touring with a boyfriend many years ago are not evoked by this synaesthesia, while some interstate places that I visited alone during that same period are evoked. Why the difference? Perhaps my BF at the time was a distraction from properly looking at and encoding visual memories of these places in the Eastern States. I tend to think the reason why these memories are absent is the same reason why my memories of high school are not evoked by this synaesthesia.

Discussion

I believe that the total number of observed pairings (sixty-nine) shows that this is a real phenomenon. I know that I am not intentionally thinking of places while I do household chores, and this automatic visualizing of scenes appears to be not driven by any logical train of thought, because for most pairings there is no logical link. For a couple of pairs of chores and scenes there are apparent conceptual links, but for most there is no apparent logical or temporal link between the chore trigger and the visual scene.

I have not observed any habit of thinking about things that are not scenes of places while I do household chores. I don’t recall seeing involuntarily in my mind’s eye to any unusual degree faces or colours or scenes of people or abstract images, but I do recall seeing many scenes of many places. This thing with seeing scenes is not just random thoughts. Visual memories of faces are not mixed up with this phenomenon, a fact which supports the idea that the processing of faces and scenes do not take place in exactly the same part of the brain (as some scientists have suggested), but the fact that the strange phenomenon, in which I involuntarily “saw” in my mind’s eye a memory of a face, is the only other type of phenomenon besides this one that I have ever experienced in which I have received an involuntary visual memory, in an experience that has characteristics of synaesthesia, suggests that the processing of faces and scenes are linked, similar and special in the way they operate in my brain.

It is clear that thinking about concepts is to a degree mixed up with this type of synaesthesia. I am not aware of any published account of any other type of synaesthesia in which three (rather than two) different types of thinking are atypically interconnected. It is important to bear in mind that I experience another type of synaesthesia or synaesthesia-like phenomenon in which concepts are reliably associated with specific places. In some examples, being at the place triggers thinking about the concept associated with it, and in some examples thinking about the concept triggers a visual memory of the place, and in some examples it goes both ways.  I have recorded over twenty examples of this synaesthesia over the years. This type of synaesthesia appears to be the result of the involuntary “method of loci” memorization that I and two first-degree synaesthete relatives experience. I hope to sometime find the time to type up a report about this. All of this inter-connection of different types of cognition, including thinking about concepts, indicates that it is impossible to identify a point of demarcation between synaesthesia and normal, functional thinking. Synesthesia gives rise to examples of cognition that seem senseless and random, but it also most likely helps to form and enhance brain structures that give rise to useful, sensible and accurate thinking. One should not automatically dismiss any synaesthesia association as random nonsense.

The fact that the scenes “seen” in my fine motor task -> visual place memory synaesthesia are exclusively obsolete, ugly or dreary suggests that this is a real phenomenon – why would I intentionally create such an unappealing experience? The patterns observed also suggest that this experience is based on real connections within my brain. Many patterns and some confirmed identical matches (four) between separately observed sets of synaesthesia experiences have been found, indicating that this is based on neural structures that have some stability, but I do not believe that the pairings between chores and scenes are permanent. I believe they fade and possibly change and are created in time. I believe this is the best explanation for the small number of repeated observations of identical pairings.

This is a phenomenon in which a large set of examples of one type of neurological event (learned tasks done by the hand) have triggered individually a large set of examples of another type of neurological event (visualizing memories of scenes of places). This is a pattern that is typical of synaesthesia. In this respect, this phenomenon very much resembles synaesthesia, but this phenomenon does not very adequately match some other characteristics of synaesthesia that have been cited by researchers. This seems to be a changeable and not reliable phenomenon, and it often appears to lack a rigid relationship between one specific trigger and one specific experience. This phenomenon appears to be more branched, more changeable and more inter-connected than synaesthesia as it is typically described, with some apparent connections to neural structures that are involved with conceptual thinking. I guess neural plasticity could be an explanation for why this type of synaesthesia seems to be more chaotic and changeable than other well-known types of synaesthesia. Perhaps this is a type of synaesthesia that involves more changeable parts of the brain than do other types of synaesthesia. I guess one would expect to find neural plasticity in parts of the brain that are responsible for learning about new concepts and learned motor skills, as humans are capable of learning new tricks and new ideas at any stage of the lifespan. In general, the picure that seems to have emerged from the data that I have collected is of a number of multi-branched hubs connecting chores, scenes and sometimes concepts in a way that is not very predictable. This is quite different from the conventional idea of synaesthesia as orderly groups of individual, one-way and reliable connections between two and only two things that are not usually connected.

In my opinion, synaesthesia researchers should consider whether some of the characteristics that have been accepted as defining features of synaesthesia are only a reflection of characteristics of the specific parts of the brain in which the well-recognized forms of synaesthesia take place. Synaesthesia will be a purely sensory experience when it happens between two parts of the brain that process sensory functions. Synaesthesia will be obvious, easy to describe, easy to verify and easy to study when it reliably and discretely triggers very specific colours in situations in which experiences of colours are not normally evoked. What could be more clear and obvious than atypical experiences that are helpfully colour-coded? One wouldn’t need to be Einstein to identify such a phenomenon. Synaesthesia will be a spatial experience when it involves a part of the brain that processes spatial thinking. Synaesthesia will be an emotional experience when it involves the temporal lobe(s). Synaesthesia will be a rigid, discrete and fixed phenomenon when it involves a part of the brain that processes thinking about learning about things that are discrete and do not change over time, things such as alphabets, numbers, days of the week and any of the many other learned sequences of stable knowledge that are typically learned very early in one’s education and early in one’s life. Synaesthesia might involve personal and social considerations when it involves a part of the brain that processes faces, considering the wealth of highly personal information that can be read in a face. Synaesthesia might superficially resemble the symptoms of visual disorders or psychosis when it involves parts of the brain that process vision or hearing or conceptual thinking or socially important cognitive functions such as processing faces or voices. Such forms of synaesthesia might routinely be kept secret by those who experience them (for obvious reasons), or could conceivably be misdiagnosed, and might thus remain unknown to synaesthesia researchers. Synaesthesia might resemble nostalgia, normal remembering or daydreaming when it involves parts of the brain that process memories, and thus might not be identified as synaesthesia by the person experiencing it. Synaesthesia might be highly changeable and fluid when it involves a part or parts of the brain that are used for learning new skills and learning skills that can fall into disuse, or parts of the brain that are used for the highly unstable experience of performing. Synaesthesia researchers need to consider whether they have been studying only the lowest-hanging fruit during the very long period of time that synaesthesia has been studied.

I believe the biggest barrier to having my hand chore-visual scene memory experience recognized as a type of synaesthesia might be demonstrating that it is atypical, because I believe it is an experience so subtle and hard to distinguish from apparently random “wandering” of the mind that it could be tricky to demonstrate its presence or absence in most people.

References

Ines Wilhelm, Susanne Diekelmann, Ina Molzow, Amr Ayoub, Matthias Mölle, and Jan Born Sleep Selectively Enhances Memory Expected to Be of Future Relevance. Journal of Neuroscience. February 2, 2011, 31(5):1563-1569; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3575-10.2011. http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/short/31/5/1563

New journal paper about face perception and mirror-touch synaesthesia

I am hoping to find the time to read this new neuroscience journal paper. I’m not sure how relevant this paper will be to my experiences, because I do not have mirror-touch synaesthesia (but I do have many other types of synesthesia).

Superior Facial Expression, But Not Identity Recognition, in Mirror-Touch Synesthesia.

Michael J. Banissy, Lúcia Garrido, Flor Kusnir, Bradley Duchaine, Vincent Walsh, and Jamie Ward

Journal of Neuroscience. February 2, 2011, 31(5):1820-1824. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5759-09.2011

http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/papers/Banissy11JN.pdf

http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/abstract/31/5/1820