Searching for Shereshevskii: what is superior about the memory of synaesthetes?
Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2007 May ;60(5):681-95. PMID: 17455076
Some individuals with superior memory, such as the mnemonist Shereshevskii (Luria, 1968), are known to have synaesthesia. However, the extent to which superior memory is a general characteristic of synaesthesia is unknown, as is the precise cognitive mechanism by which synaesthesia affects memory. This study demonstrates that synaesthetes tend to report subjectively better than average memory and that these reports are borne out with objective testing. Synaesthetes experiencing colours for words show better memory than matched controls for stimuli that induce synaesthesia (word lists) relative to stimuli that do not (an abstract figure). However, memory advantages are not limited to material that elicits synaesthesia because synaesthetes demonstrate enhanced memory for colour per se (which does not induce a synaesthetic response). Our results suggest that the memory enhancement found in synaesthetes is related to an enhanced retention of colour in both synaesthetic and nonsynaesthetic situations. Furthermore, this may account for the fact that synaesthetic associations, once formed, remain highly consistent.