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Synaesthesia not so creative: research

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 22/06/2016

Tasting sound and hearing colours doesn't automatically make you creative - but it might have its uses, researchers say.

A study from the University of Canterbury says synaesthesia, a condition in which people's experiences set other senses off - such as tasting sounds, or attributing colours to words - doesn't seem to quite live up the myth surrounding it.

Notable "synaesthetes" such as painter Wassily Kandinsky or composer Olivier Messiaen have given the condition a reputation as a creative tool.

Not so, says Doctor Patrick Shepherd, who has been studying the condition since 2010.

Talking to synaesthetes about their condition for the study, Dr Shepherd says it doesn't appear to affect people's creativity, or even their job choices.

"Synaesthesia does not make you more or less creative, and those who have it will just as equally use their synaesthesia in their work as not," he said.

But, a second phase of his study has found the condition may be useful for teaching in the arts, particularly music.

"Synaesthesia affects people in very different and usually very inconsistent ways, colour hearing does not automatically come with taste association; combinations are not universal nor are they similar," he said.

"But knowing somebody with a similar view of the world helps by normalising the condition. Being aware of synaesthesia is important for educators and non-synaesthetes."

He said as many as one in 23 had been diagnosed with the condition in some studies.

"So many of our children are synaesthetes but may hide the fact, in worst cases regarding it as an affliction, when in actual fact it could be used as a positive tool in the teaching of the arts," he said.

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