Tag Archives: Temporal lobe

Don’t confuse poor face memory with aphasia

I know this fascinating article is from 2013, but it makes such an important point about face recognition that I want to bring it to your attention, if you weren’t already aware of it. The ability to remember a person’s face is a different ability than the ability to name the person the face belongs to. These abilities are evidently processed in different areas of the brain. Unfortunately, there is no direct link to the journal paper this article summarizes, so I cannot quickly determine whether the test using the faces of famous people is the same as the “Famous Faces” test that I have previously mentioned at this blog (and done myself). It does sound similar to one of the tests offered here, free of charge: https://www.testmybrain.org/

Famous faces to help spot early dementia.
Anna Salleh ABC. 13 August 2013.

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2013/08/13/3823757.htm

Defining synaesthesia and some interesting research findings – a lecture by a leading Aussie synaesthesia researcher

Below is a link to a webpage that has a video of Associate Professor Anina Rich from Macquarie University delivering the Paul Bourke Lecture 2014 and answering questions afterwards. Some other speakers have a few things to say before her lecture. Associate Professor Anina Rich is the winner of the 2013 Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research.

http://www.assa.edu.au/events/lectures/bourke/2014/38

Was ist das?

Schimmel, Angelika Dr. Holger Wiese aus Jena untersucht Phänomene der Gesichtserkennung. Jena.otz.de 7th October 2012.  http://jena.otz.de/web/lokal/leben/detail/-/specific/Dr-Holger-Wiese-aus-Jena-untersucht-Phaenomene-der-Gesichtserkennung-1336525605

Dr Marlene Behrmann explains prosopagnosia

I’ve come across a YouTube video in which Dr Marlene Behrmann talks in an interview from last year about prosopagnosia and gives an authoritative explanation of what it is. She seems to have a slight South African accent.

While watching Dr Behrmann discussing the differences between the typical eye movements of prosopagnosics and regular study subjects while looking at faces I wondered whether the typical eye movements of super-recognizer study subjects might be found to be similar or disssimilar to the eye movements of normal people with average face recognition ability.

Peng, Cynthia Marlene Behrmann – prosopagnosia. goCognitive. uploaded Sep 25, 2011.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z9PGrgPlYw&feature=related

Left anterior temporal lobe versus right anterior temporal lobe – does one really need to be autistic to have excellent visual memory?

I’m not a paid researcher and I don’t work in a university, so when I discover new things that help to make sense of my unusual visual processing experiences (various visual types of synaesthesia, IMLM, scene-concept synaesthesia, super-recognition, The Strange Phenomenon etc) it is often by accident as I go about my usual lifestyle. It was only an accident many years ago that I found out that synaesthesia is a neuropsychological phenomenon recognized by science, when I was reading about another subject that interested me at the time, and synaesthesia was mentioned in passing and described in a quaint footnote. The other day I was at my local library looking thru a pile of New Scientist magazines to select issues that I hadn’t read. I didn’t realise that I’d borrowed one from 2010, but when I opened it up at an article about research that has demonstrated how visual memory can be enhanced I wasn’t sorry that I took that old issue off the shelf.

This article, which sadly is behind a paywall, but can probably be easily accessed in hard-copy thru any good public library, is not about face memory or face recognition, but I think it is still an interesting clue about what might be different about my brain. As I’ve written before in articles that I’ve published here, it is my belief that there is a general enhancement in the functioning of the right temporal lobe areas of my brain, which includes the fusiform gyrus on the right, which includes the fusiform face area on the right. I guess my fusiform gyrus on the left is probably working well also. The thing that makes this article so interesting to me is that it seems to show that at least part of the left and right temporal lobes work in opposition to each other, and when the activity of the right is boosted while the activity of the left is inhibited the result is an enhancement of visual memory. Could a naturally-occuring skewed relationship between left and right in the temporal lobes be an explanation for my test scores consistent with me being a super-recognizer of faces? Has some bright-spark researcher at a uni somewhere done a version of the transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) study discussed in this article, exploring face memory? If I was a researcher that is what I’d be looking at.

The other aspect of this article that I find striking is the view of autism that it presents. Science magazines are full of stories about autism research, and as a reader of these publications I’ve read my fair share of such stories, but I’ve never before read an article depicting autism as a natural enhancement in visual memory. I guess such a benefit of autism might be implied in the many books and articles that have been published about autistic savants who create realistic art (Stephen Wiltshire and Gregory Blackstock would be some fine examples), and no doubt an enhanced visual memory could also be behind the many autistic people who have superior navigation ability, but what I’ve generally found is that most books and articles about autism don’t delve very far into brain-based explanations of autistic enhancement of visual memory. As I recall, behavioural explanations are far more common than neuropsychological explanations – autistic people’s special visual abilities are often dismissively described as being the result of obsessive, repetitive learning. Clearly there is more to it than that. In this article by Sujata Gupta in New Scientist autism is explicitly linked with enhancement in visual memory. So does one need to be autistic to have superior visual memory? And how does this all relate to face memory? What is the relationship between autism and super-recognition, if any? I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for researchers to tackle these questions.

Gupta, Sujata Little brain zap, big memory boost. New Scientist. August 14th 2010. Issue 2773 p.16.

Online reference: Skull electrodes give memory a boost. New Scientist. 13 August 2010 by Sujata Gupta Magazine issue 2773. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727733.900-skull-electrodes-give-memory-a-boost.html

It appears that the study described in the above article has not been published in a journal yet, but below is the details of a paper about a similar study co-authored by Richard Chi:

Paulo S. Boggio, Felipe Fregni, Claudia Valasek, Sophie Ellwood, Richard Chi, Jason Gallate, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, and Allan Snyder
Temporal Lobe Cortical Electrical Stimulation during the Encoding and Retrieval Phase Reduces False Memories.
PLoS ONE. 2009; 4(3): e4959. Published online 2009 March 25. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004959 PMCID: PMC2655647
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2655647/?tool=pubmed

Wish I had time to read this – journal paper from last year about Williams syndrome, music and synesthesia or synaesthesia-like experiences

What exactly do people who have Williams syndrome experience when they listen to music?

 

Auditory Attraction: Activation of visual cortex by music and sound in Williams syndrome.

Tricia A. Thornton-Wells, Chris J. Cannistraci, Adam Anderson, Chai-Youn Kim, Mariam Eapen, John C. Gore, Randolph Blake, and Elisabeth M. Dykens
Am J Intellect Dev Disabil. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 March 1.
PMCID: PMC2862007

Published in final edited form as: Am J Intellect Dev Disabil. 2010 March; 115(2): 172–189. doi: 10.1352/1944-7588-115.172.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862007/

 

Synaesthesia linking concepts with scenes – maybe not so hard to explain, and maybe not really so strange?

I have recently been reading the chapter about synaesthesia in V. S. Ramachandran’s latest book about neuroscience, and among many other interesting things Ramachandran explained that some simple concepts are processed in the temporal lobes. This is the general part of the brain that I believe is hyper-developed or hyper-connected in my case, and it is the part of the brain in which the fusiform gyrus is located, where the recognition of faces, bodies, scenes, numbers and words is done, and colour is processed. I know as the result of testing that I have an above-average ability in face recognition, possibly in the super-recognizer class, and I also experience types of synaesthesia that involve faces, scenes, colours, words, letters and numbers, so I think I’m on solid ground when I assert that there is something interesting about my fusiform gyrus. Like many synaesthetes I also experience synaesthesia triggered by listening to music, and I believe that appreciating music has an unusual prominence in the lives of me and some of my synaesthete relatives. This type of thing is thought to be associated with the temporal lobes which do auditory processing among many other things, so I believe that whatever is different about my fusiform gyrus or (gyri?) is not limited to it but extends into the temporal lobes. So I was particularly interested that the processing of simple concepts goes on in the temporal lobe, because another type of synaesthesia that I experience links concepts with visual scenes which are processed in the fusiform gyrus in the temporal lobes. If these concepts are also processed in the temporal lobes, that would be another type of synaesthesia of mine that is a purely intra-temporal lobe phenomenon, and therefore a scientific explanation of many of the synaesthesia experiences of mine could be explained in one very short phrase; bushy temporal lobes. But I’m not completely sure that the types of concepts that my mind links with scenes are the same type of thing that goes on in the temporal lobes. This is the passage from page 104 of the book The Tell-Tale Brain by V. S. Ramachandran:

“Brain damage can make a person lose the ability to name tools but not fruits and vegetables, or only fruits and not tools, or only fruits but not vegetables. All of these concepts are stored close to one other in the upper parts of the temporal lobes, but clearly they are sufficiently separated so that a small stroke can knock out one but leave the others intact. You might be tempted to think of fruits and tools as perceptions rather than concepts, but in fact two tools – say, a hammer and saw – can be visually as dissimilar from each other as they are from a banana; what unites then is a semantic understanding about their purpose and use.”

This is a list of some of the concepts that are involved with the concept->scene synaesthesia of mine:
the concept of a bad “state housing” area that one could conceivably find one’s self living in if one’s life went to hell
the concept of Charles Darwin
the concept of Charles Darwin coming to terms with the death of a child
the concept of adoption
the concept of doing one’s own tax return
the concept of cooking with lard
the concept of Bettina Arndt
the concept of the toy the sketch-a-graph.

These concepts aren’t quite as simple as the conceptual categories of “fruits” or “tools”. Is this really the same type of conceptual thinking as that described by Ramachandran? I really don’t know. Maybe I would have more of a clue if I could find the time to read through an interesting-looking paper that I have found on the internet; The Representation of Object Concepts in the Brain by
Alex Martin. I’ve had a quick look at the paper, and I have spotted a couple of interesting things on page 32, a truly amazing misspelling of the word “synaesthete” and what appears to be confirmation that different types of grapheme -> colour synaesthesia involve different parts of the brain. I’m betting that my grapheme -> colour synaesthesia involves the ventral temporal cortex rather than sites in the occipital cortex, because for me the colours of the alphabet are experienced as knowledge of the colours of letters more than a perception of the colours of letters. This doesn’t make the experience any less real or specific. I can still “see” the colours very clearly in my mind’s eye.

I’ve had some thoughts about my concept -> scene and scene -> concept synaesthesia, and I think it could be the case that it only seems to be a strange and nonsensical way of thinking because it has been taken out of the context in which it evolved, and placed into this abstracted, complex, high-speed modern world that we live in. As I have previously observed, often there is a semantic relationship between the place seen in the scene and the concept, and sometimes the scene is of a place that I visited or frequented during the period of time when I was introduced to the concept or was thinking intensively about that concept. This would appear to be a completely useful and sensible way to think, with a thought triggering a real and visible scene illustrating and spatially locating the concept. Maybe a pre-historic human thinking with this type of synaesthesia might experience an appetite for a particular type of seafood, and then in her mind, helpfully, in response to the concept of that specific type of seafood, flashes the scene of the exact beach where she previously went hunting successfully for that particular seafood delicacy. I’ve had a little bit of experience hanging out with fishermen who knew what they were doing, and I know that catching a fish often requires knowing and doing exactly the correct thing – being in the right place at the right time with exactly the right bait and tackle for the specific thing that you are hunting. Casual attitudes and fuzzy thinking don’t get results. The exact nature of synaesthesia seems to fit in with this type of task. In the stable, predictable world of the hunter-gatherer in which there isn’t much abstract thinking to complicate life, this type of synaesthesia could possibly be a most useful tool of the mind, retrieving memories of exact locations just when they are required. One has to wonder if this type of thinking would have been so useful that everyone should have evolved to have it. Was synaesthesia the norm rather than the exception in early humans? Is my mind an atavism, or could it be a souvenir of a liaison between Homo sapiens and the Neanderthal race? Or is it true that this phenomenon isn’t synaesthesia at all, but a completely normal synaesthesia-like thing that is so ordinary that people don’t notice or discuss it?

Having a mind that automatically connects concepts with scenes might have been a very useful and sensible thing in the early times of our species, but when we link concepts with scenes in a mind that is living in the modern industrialized world, things can start to look a bit weird, because there has been an explosion of more abstract thought and complex learning, bringing with it a massive range of possible concepts to think about. In prehistoric times there were no tax returns or underclass suburbs or female sex therapists with gruff voices and high media profiles. It’s a strange old world that we live in, and as synaesthesia involves our thoughts and perceptions of this world, it should probably look just as strange.

References

A brief report on my synaesthesia experiences that involve concepts as triggers or evoked experiences https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/a-brief-report-on-my-synaesthesia-experiences-that-involve-concepts-as-triggers-or-evoked-experiences/

Martin, Alex The Representation of Object Concepts in the Brain. Annual Review of Psychology. 2007. 58:25–45.
First published online September 1, 2006.
The Annual Review of Psychology is online at http://psych.annualreviews.org
This article’s doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190143
http://psychology.stanford.edu/~jlm/pdfs/MartinAnnRevPsych07.pdf

Ramachandran, V. S. The tell-tale brain: unlocking the mystery of human nature. William Heinemann, 2011.

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.”

The “Enhanced Perceptual Functioning Model” of autism supported by meta-analysis, and mentions face processing and hyperlexia

A most interesting recent quote from Canadian researcher Dr Laurent Mottron about a recently published meta analysis of published functional imaging studies of autistic subjects :

“We synthesized the results of neuroimaging studies using visual stimuli from across the world. The results are strong enough to remain true despite the variability between the research designs, samples and tasks, making the perceptual account of autistic cognition currently the most validated model. The stronger engagement of the visual system, whatever the task, represents the first physiological confirmation that enhanced perceptual processing is a core feature of neural organization in this population. We now have a very strong statement about autism functioning which may be ground for cognitive accounts of autistic perception, learning, memory and reasoning.”

This not a new theory about autism, I believe it was first set out in a published journal paper in 2006. This theory appears to have some similarities with the “Intense World” theory of autism that was the creation of Henry Markram, Tania Rinaldi and Kamila Markram, and would explain the same sorts of phenomena that the intense world theory would explain. The theory also quite obviously brings to mind the popular idea that autistic people are “visual thinkers”, an idea which has been popularized by the autistic author Temple Grandin. I’m not sure if she was the original source of this idea.

I noticed that in the abstract of the paper by Mottron and colleagues hyperlexia and “atypical” face processing in autism are mentioned, while the general thrust of the abstract and the press release seems to suggest that autistics are or should be better than non-autistic people in visual processing. So what does that mean? Are autistic people better or worse than non-autistic people at recognizing and interpreting faces, and at reading text? Almost everything that I’ve read about autism suggests that autistic people are impaired. There seems to be some inconsistency somewhere. I just know that in our family we have synaesthetes who are gifted or clever in visual recognition tasks such as reading, recognizing faces, identifying facial expressions and identifying different types within categories of objects (a task that activates the same part of the brain as face recognition). Is there some type of relationship between our synaesthesia and autism?

I hope to get a hold of the full text of this paper and search it visually with a great attention to detail. I’ll let you know what I see.

References

Samson, Fabienne, Mottron, Laurent, Soulieres, Isabelle & Zeffiro, Thomas A. Enhanced visual functioning in autism: an ALE meta-analysis. Human Brain Mapping. Article first published online: 4 APR 2011 DOI: 10.1002/hbm.21307 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hbm.21307/abstract

Raillant-Clark, William New research explains autistic’s exceptional visual abilities. EurekAlert Release date: April 4th 2011. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-04/uom-nre032811.php

Raillant-Clark, William Spatial distribution. EurekAlert (This is an image accompanying a media release. “This is the spatial distribution of regions showing more task-related activity in autistics than non-autistics for the three processing domains: “faces” in red, “objects” in green, and “words” in blue.“) http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/30851.php?from=181850

Mottron, Laurent, Dawson, Michelle, Soulieres, Isabelle, Hubert, Benedicte & Burack, Jake Enhanced Perceptual Functioning in Autism: An Update, and Eight Principles of Autistic Perception. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Vol. 36, No. 1, January 2006 DOI 10.1007/s10803-005-0040-7 Published Online: February 2, 2006 http://affect.media.mit.edu/Rgrads/Articles/pdfs/Mottron-etal-2006-EPF.pdf  http://www.springerlink.com/content/f1r60p2553n12565/

Markram, Henry, Rinaldi, Tania, Markram, Kamila The Intense World Syndrome – an Alternative Hypothesis for Autism. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2007 November; 1(1): 77–96. Published online 2007 October 15. Prepublished online 2007 September 1. doi: 10.3389/neuro.01.1.1.006.2007. PMCID: PMC2518049 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2518049/

Local brain hyperconnectivity, synaesthesia, autism, music, the temporal lobes and perfect pitch: some interesting reading

Douglas, Ed Perfect pitch. New Scientist Issue 2801 Feb 26th 2011 p. 46-49.

Online title of the article: Finely tuned minds: the secret of perfect pitch. http://www.newscientist.com/issue/2801

This is a most interesting science magazine article about perfect pitch, otherwise known as absolute pitch, the “ability to name or sing any note on demand”, written by someone who himself has perfect pitch. Ed Douglas reports on the findings of studies that have been published in six different science journals, and research scientists mentioned include Daniel Levitin, Sarah Wilson, Elizabeth Theusch, Analabha Basu, Jane Gitschier, Maria Teresa Moreno Sala, Eugenia Costa-Giomi, Patrick Bermudez, Psyche Loui, Diana Deutsch, Luca Tommasi and researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan.

Douglas explicitly speculates that there could be an association between synaesthesia, autism, and perfect pitch ability, caused by an “excess of wiring in the brain” or hyperconnection. Douglas cites as evidence the study by Psyche Loui and colleagues listed above, and another New Scientist article that reported the interesting “intense world” theory of autism in 2008.

In this article the names of four famous musicians who either had perfect pitch or possibly had it, Beethoven, Ella Fitzgerald, Mozart and Jimi Hendrix are mentioned. The author Ed Douglas does not mention that two of these musicians also experienced coloured music synaesthesia (drug use could have been the cause of Hendrix’s colours). We do not know if Mozart had synaesthesia (my intuition tells me he did), but there has been much speculation over the years that Mozart might have had a range of different neurological peculiarities or disorders. Douglas mentions that Hendrix and Mozart both had an extraordinary savant-like memory for music. Hendrix, Mozart and possibly also Beethoven were left-handed.

Enhanced Cortical Connectivity in Absolute Pitch Musicians: A Model for Local Hyperconnectivity. Psyche Loui, H. Charles Li, Anja Hohmann and Gottfried Schlaug Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. April 2011, Vol. 23, No. 4, Pages 1015-1026.
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21500) http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/jocn.2010.21500

This is one of the studies discussed in the above New Scientist article. Don’t ask me how a journal paper dated “April 2011” can be cited in a science magazine dated “Feb 26th 2011”. The world of science journals is a futuristic world.

Twelve musicians with absolute pitch (AP)/perfect pitch and a matched control group of twelve musicians without perfect pitch were studied. Volume and fibre numbers in some tracts in the left and right hemispheres of the brain were found to be significantly higher in the study subjects who had perfect pitch, but hyperconnectivity was not found all over the place; “Heightened connectivity among AP musicians appears to affect local structures specific to the temporal lobe.” Figure 4 in this paper strikingly shows the difference between the tracts of three groups of study subjects. This paper shows that people with perfect pitch appear to have greater connectivity in the white matter of parts of the temporal lobes that associate and perceive pitch. It looks to me as though greater connectivity in the left hemisphere might be more important regarding perfect pitch. I am not pretending to be a qualified scientist in interpreting this paper.

I believe that greater connectivity in the white matter has been found in grapheme-> colour synaesthetes, in other parts of the brain, so I would not be surprised if music-related synaesthesia might be particularly common in musicians who have perfect pitch. It is no surprise that this paper mentions synaesthesia and has two studies of a synaesthete musician with perfect pitch among its references (see below). Unfortunately synaesthesia is discussed with some negative language in this April 2011 paper; “these disorders” and “abnormal white matter connectivity”. In the discussion of this paper the case is argued that perfect pitch has hyperconnectivity in common with conditions such as synaesthesia, autism and heightened creativity, and the authors identify “increased local connectivity in temporal regions” as a feature that perfect pitch, synesthesia and autism share.

Hänggi Jürgen; Beeli Gian; Oechslin Mathias S; Jäncke Lutz The multiple synaesthete E.S.: neuroanatomical basis of interval-taste and tone-colour synaesthesia. NeuroImage. 2008;43(2):192-203. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18692578

This is a journal paper that was mentioned in the 2011 journal paper above. A brain scan study was done comparing E. S., who has perfect pitch and some musical tone-related types of synaesthesia, with other professional musicians and with normal controls. Bilateral areas of hyperconnectivity in the temporal lobes of E. S. were found.

Synaesthesia: when coloured sounds taste sweet. Beeli G, Esslen M, Jäncke L. Nature. 434, 38 (3 March 2005) doi:10.1038/434038a Published online 2 March 2005. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v434/n7029/abs/434038a.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15744291

Another journal article that was mentioned in the 2011 journal paper. Female synaesthete musician E.S. is compared with five non-synaesthete musicians. E.S. experiences flavoured musical tone intervals, which she uses to identify these intervals. It appears that this paper is about the same musician synaesthete with perfect pitch as the one described in the 2008 NeuroImage paper above.

I’m satisfied that there is a real association between synaesthesia and perfect pitch, based on what I have read in the above article and papers, and also based on the fact that perfect pitch seems to be unusually common among musicians who have or had synaesthesia. I believe this association between synaesthesia and perfect pitch is a direct effect of the physical localised hyperconnection within the synesthete brain that gives rise to the synaesthesia and also the increased perception ability, even though I do acknowledge that a type of synaesthesia that gives musical sounds individual colours or flavours could obviously aid in the identification of individual sounds. The question remains though – by what mechanism are the individual sounds identified then each given an identifying taste or colour? Surely a conscious or an unconscious identification of the sounds must precede the allocation of colours to the musical notes.

There is plenty of scientific evidence that various types of synaesthesia give rise to various types of superiority in perception, and it appears that perfect pitch is another example. I do not know if I have any capacity for perfect pitch as I had only the most rudimentary musical education (the same true of my synaesthete close relatives). I’m happy to conclude that simply being synaesthetes makes us especially “at risk” for possessing special powers of perception, including perfect pitch, being a super-recognizer or a superior reader, but it is also clear that specific types of special abilities and specific types of synaesthesia are associated with higher connectivity in specific parts of the brain. So far, my inquiries appear to suggest that the hyperconnectivity in the brains of my kin and I could be limited to the right hemisphere, while perfect pitch might well have as its physical basis higher connectivity in the left, so I guess we could dip out on perfect pitch. If there exists any cost-free test of the capacity for perfect pitch that can be taken by people who do not have musical training, I would love to have a crack at it.

I don’t know about perfect pitch, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is something a bit atypical about the way our brains process sounds. The enjoyment of music is very important to a number of people in our family, which I’m sure has something to do with the temporal lobes. A lot of the music that we enjoy is sung in non-English languages, languages from all corners of the world. I’m not sure how unusual our taste in music is, but there does seem to be a hunger in our family for listening to exotic phonemes. None of us are language savants like the famous British synaesthete Daniel Tammet, but there is a consistent line of descent in our family of bilingual or multi-lingual people. I also seem to have a thing about unusual voices. I choose to have people in my life who have unusual voices and I love to listen to distinctive singing voices of a range of types. For me, singing voices are easily categorized as interesting or not interesting, and I much prefer the former. The gravel-voiced rap singers Everlast and Tone Loc have interesting voices, and so do all counter-tenors. I recently read an interesting observation about the extraordinary sound of the counter-tenor voice in a newspaper interview article about German counter-tenor Andreas Scholl. “I think these days the audience knows what a countertenor is, but it’s that inability to readily categorise the voice that makes for better communication – you listen with fresh ears, and focus more on the words.” I believe this is an important element of my enjoyment of the voices of countertenors and other singers with interesting voices. The strangeness of the sound draws attention closely, finely, and it also destroys any set of simple musical expectations. I find strange sounds compelling and interesting, and I’m not sure why I find this so very enjoyable, but I do know from experience that when people enjoy doing anything involving thought, they are most likely utilizing some particular area of cognitive strength.

Beth Gibbons from Portishead and Kate Bush are some female singers who have interesting voices. For me, many interesting voices have a colour. Today a rellie and I were having an argument at a supermarket about the colour of the music that we were listening to, as Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush, one of the strangest bits of music to ever hit the top of the charts, was playing on the PA system among the aisles of groceries. Don’t worry about us. We are just a little bit different.