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Synaesthesia is an unusual phenomenon that is often described as a ‘mixing of the senses’. Most commonly letters, numbers, days of the week and other words evoke vivid and highly consistent experiences of colour. Sounds can also trigger visual images, as can smells, tastes, and touch. For example, listening to an orchestra might involve not just the auditory input and seeing the musicians, but also moving waves of colour, tinted by each instrument. Synaesthesia is not a disorder - if anything, it is an unusual gift - but it has the potential to provide a unique perspective on studying human perception. In this lecture, Associate Professor Rich discusses her research on synaesthesia and the mappings we all have between our senses, giving insights into the way the brain integrates information for conscious perception of the world.
Associate Professor Anina Rich is co-director of the Perception in Action Research Centre (PARC) and heads up the Synaesthesia@Macquarie research group. She is Australia’s leading expert on synaesthesia, with publications on the topic in high profile journals including Nature and Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Her work has made a clear argument for selective attention playing a critical role in synaesthetic binding, analogous to normal binding of object features for conscious perception. Her work has received considerable media attention, and she has won a number of awards, including the 2010 ‘Young Tall Poppy’ award for Science from the Australian Institute of Policy & Science.