CPHRL Research Lab

Study Reveals Connection between Autism and Synesthesia


According to Wikipedia, “Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior”.   


On the other synesthesia is defined at Wikipedia as “a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” 

Both autism and synesthesia have different symptoms and causes but a new research in the journal Molecular Autism suggests that “people with autism are more likely to also have synesthesia”.

The team of scientists, led by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at the Autism Research Centre from Cambridge University did a thorough research work. For the research 164 adults with an autism spectrum condition and 97 adults without autism were tested. All volunteers were screened for synesthesia. They completed a synesthesia questionnaire, Autism Spectrum Quotient, and Test of Genuineness-Revised online.

After compiling all the results, the researchers came to the conclusion that whereas synesthesia only occurred in 7.2% of typical individuals, it occurred in 18.9% of people with autism.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, lead author of the study, is very happy with the findings and he said, “These findings will re-focus research to examine common factors that drive brain development in these traditionally very separate conditions. An example is the mechanism ‘apoptosis,’ the natural pruning that occurs in early development, where we are programmed to lose many of our infant neural connections. In both autism and synesthesia apoptosis may not occur at the same rate, so that these connections are retained beyond infancy.”

Professor Simon Fisher, director of the Language and Genetics Department at Nijmegen’s Max Planck Institute, said “Genes play a substantial role in autism and scientists have begun to pinpoint some of the individual genes involved. Synesthesia is also thought to be strongly genetic, but the specific genes underlying this are still unknown.”

The whole team is hoping to search for shared genes between these two conditions.

The significant outcome of this research works suggests that the two conditions – autism and synesthesia may share some common underlying mechanisms. However, more future research works are required to prove the significant connection.

For complete information on this research work, visit www.autismresearchcentre.com and www.molecularautism.com.


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