Synesthetes perseverate in implicit learning: Evidence from a non-stationary statistical learning task

Kaitlyn R. Bankieris, Ting Qian, Richard N. Aslin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Synesthetes automatically and consistently experience additional sensory or cognitive perceptions in response to particular environmental stimuli. Recent evidence suggests that the propensity to develop synesthesia is genetic while the particular associations experienced by a given synesthete are influenced by learning. Despite the potential role of implicit learning in the formation of synesthetic associations, there has been minimal investigation of synesthetes’ implicit learning abilities. In this study, we examine linguistic-colour synesthetes’ ability to implicitly learn from and adjust to non-stationary statistics in a domain unrelated to their particular form of synesthesia. Engaging participants in a computer game Whack-the-mole, we utilise the online measure of reaction time to assess the time course of learning. Participants are exposed to “worlds” of probabilities that, unbeknownst to them, undergo unannounced changes, creating unpredictable statistical shifts devoid of accompanying cues. The same small set of probability worlds are repeated throughout the experiment to investigate participants’ ability to retain and learn from this repetitive probabilistic information. The reaction time data provide evidence that synesthetes require more information than nonsynesthetes to benefit from the non-stationary probability distributions. These findings demonstrate that linguistic-colour synesthetes’ implicit learning abilities—in a domain far from their synesthetic experiences—differ from those of nonsynesthetes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1771-1779
Number of pages9
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


  • Synesthesia
  • implicit learning
  • non-stationary
  • statistical learning


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