Prevalence, characteristics and a neurocognitive model of mirror-touch synaesthesia

Exp Brain Res. 2009 Sep;198(2-3):261-72. doi: 10.1007/s00221-009-1810-9. Epub 2009 May 3.


In so-called 'mirror-touch synaesthesia', observing touch to another person induces a subjective tactile sensation on the synaesthete's own body. It has been suggested that this type of synaesthesia depends on increased activity in neural systems activated when observing touch to others. Here we report the first study on the prevalence of this variant of synaesthesia. Our findings indicate that this type of synaesthesia is just as common, if not more common than some of the more frequently studied varieties of synaesthesia such as grapheme-colour synaesthesia. Additionally, we examine behavioural correlates associated with the condition. In a second experiment, we show that synaesthetic experiences are not related to somatotopic cueing--a flash of light on an observed body part does not elicit the behavioural or subjective characteristics of synaesthesia. Finally, we propose a neurocognitive model to account for these characteristics and discuss the implications of our findings for general theories of synaesthesia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Perceptual Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Perceptual Disorders / psychology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Prevalence
  • Reaction Time
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Touch Perception*
  • Visual Perception*