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Science AMA Series: Hello Reddit! We’re psychologist Dr. Duncan Carmichael (Univ. of Sussex, UK) and geneticist Dr. Amanda Tilot (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Netherlands), and we’re here to chat about the genetics of synesthesia! AMA!
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Purple Tuesdays, words that taste like buttered toast, or experiencing the calendar as a winding line in the space around you - these are all examples of synesthetic experiences. The synesthesia research field is exploding, bringing together psychologists, neurobiologists, and even geneticists to understand this neurological phenomenon. There are dozens of different types, and it’s much more common than people think - about 1 in 25 people experience one form or another although many have no idea that not everyone shares their perceptions. We’ve had an inkling that synesthesia might be (at least partially) genetic for 130 years, but we’re still hunting for the genes involved. Amanda is leading a large scale study to find these genes, and together we’ve recruited over 50% of our 1st goal - 1000 people who experience letters and numbers as having colors. You can read more about our synaesthesia genetics work here, and if you’d like to volunteer you can go straight to the project page at www.mpi.nl/synaesthesia. Synesthesia studies and other good links: Looking for areas of the genome linked to auditory-visual synaesthesia Genetic overlap between absolute pitch and synesthesia Synaesthesia occurs in about 4% of undergraduate students and is not more common in women Synesthesia is more common amongst people with autism University of Sussex’s synaesthesia FAQ The Synesthesia Battery from David Eagleman’s lab at Baylor College of Medicine - Here you can take a variety of synesthesia tests, and participate in research! On Twitter: Amanda - @aktilot Synaesthesia and Sensory Integration lab at the University of Sussex - @SASI_Sussex About us: Duncan (postdoc): Since studying psychology at university, I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour and how the brain works. My research focuses on the causes of synaesthesia, how it is related to health, and how synaesthesia develops in children. Hopefully our research will help us to find out more about synaesthesia itself and also a little bit more about the brain in general. Amanda (postdoc): I first heard about synesthesia during an introduction to neuroscience course in college. I went on to spend my PhD studying a new mouse model for autism spectrum disorder based on mutations in a gene we usually associate with cancer (PTEN). While I was finishing grad school, I decided that I wanted to stay focused on questions at the intersection of neuroscience and genetics and began looking for a postdoc. I was excited to find that Prof. Simon Fisher was working on the genetics of synesthesia (synaesthesia in British English), and moved from the US to the Netherlands to join his group last July. Send us any and every question you have about synesthesia, and we’ll let you know what the data says! I’ll be back at 11 am EST (8 am PST, 4 pm UTC) to answer your questions, ask me anything! 11am: Hi everyone! Thanks for your amazing questions, we’re now live! 1pm: Thanks to everyone for the really interesting questions! I’m (Duncan) signing off now, but Amanda will keep going for a bit! Thanks to James Hughes and Jennifer Mankin for their help in providing additional answers. 2pm: Amanda here, signing off for now (it’s 8pm in the Netherlands), thank you everyone for the fantastic questions! I know it’s still early on the West Coast, so feel free to add questions and I’ll try to get back to them this weekend. Many thanks also to the terrific moderators for their help in arranging this opportunity to answer your questions and hear your stories!