Background: Synesthesia is a phenomenon where a stimulus produces consistent extraordinary subjective experiences. A relatively common type of synesthesia involves perception of color when viewing letters (e.g. the letter 'a' always appears as light blue). In this study, we examine whether traits typically regarded as markers of synesthesia can be acquired by simply reading in color.
Methodology/principal findings: Non-synesthetes were given specially prepared colored books to read. A modified Stroop task was administered before and after reading. A perceptual crowding task was administered after reading. Reading one book (>49,000 words) was sufficient to induce effects regarded as behavioral markers for synesthesia. The results of the Stroop tasks indicate that it is possible to learn letter-color associations through reading in color (F(1, 14) = 5.85, p = .030). Furthermore, Stroop effects correlated with subjective reports about experiencing letters in color (r(13) = 0.51, p = .05). The frequency of viewing letters is related to the level of association as seen by the difference in the Stroop effect size between upper- and lower-case letters (t(14) = 2.79, p = .014) and in a subgroup of participants whose Stroop effects increased as they continued to read in color. Readers did not show significant performance advantages on the crowding task compared to controls. Acknowledging the many differences between trainees and synesthetes, results suggest that it may be possible to acquire a subset of synesthetic behavioral traits in adulthood through training.
Conclusion/significance: To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of acquiring letter-color associations through reading in color. Reading in color appears to be a promising avenue in which we may explore the differences and similarities between synesthetes and non-synesthetes. Additionally, reading in color is a plausible method for a long-term 'synesthetic' training program.