A critical review of the neuroimaging literature on synesthesia

Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 Mar 31:9:103. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00103. eCollection 2015.


Synesthesia refers to additional sensations experienced by some people for specific stimulations, such as the systematic arbitrary association of colors to letters for the most studied type. Here, we review all the studies (based mostly on functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging) that have searched for the neural correlates of this subjective experience, as well as structural differences related to synesthesia. Most differences claimed for synesthetes are unsupported, due mainly to low statistical power, statistical errors, and methodological limitations. Our critical review therefore casts some doubts on whether any neural correlate of the synesthetic experience has been established yet. Rather than being a neurological condition (i.e., a structural or functional brain anomaly), synesthesia could be reconsidered as a special kind of childhood memory, whose signature in the brain may be out of reach with present brain imaging techniques.

Keywords: DTI; VBM; connectivity; fMRI; synesthesia.

Publication types

  • Review