The aesthetic appeal of auditory-visual synaesthetic perceptions in people without synaesthesia

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Ward, Jamie ; Moore, Samantha ; Thompson-Lake, Daisy ; Salih, Shireen ; Beck, Brianna (2008)

The term 'visual music' refers to works of art in which both hearing and vision are directly or indirectly stimulated. Our ability to create, perceive, and appreciate visual music is hypothesised to rely on the same multisensory processes that support auditory-visual (AV) integration in other contexts. Whilst these mechanisms have been extensively studied, there has been little research on how these processes affect aesthetic judgments (of liking or preference). Studies of synaesthesia in which sound evokes vision and studies of cross-modal biases in non-synaesthetes have revealed non-arbitrary mappings between visual and auditory properties (eg high-pitch sounds being smaller and brighter). In three experiments, we presented members of the general population with animated AV clips derived from synaesthetic experiences and contrasted them with a number of control conditions. The control conditions consisted of the same clips rotated or with the colour changed, random AV pairings, or animated clips generated by non-synaesthetes. Synaesthetic AV animations were generally preferred over the control conditions. The results suggest that non-arbitrary AV mappings, present in the experiences of synaesthetes, can be readily appreciated by others and may underpin our tendency to engage with certain forms of art.
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