Tag Archives: Synesthesia

The smell of jazz

Sonny Stitt

People can systematically match information from different senses; these matches are known as crossmodal correspondences.

A 2013 study demonstrated that at least some color-music correspondences can be explained by emotional mediation.

A later study investigated the emotion mediation hypothesis for correspondences between odor and music, testing whether the strength of odor-music matches for particular odors and musical selections can be predicted by the similarity of the emotional associations with the odors and music. These researchers found that perceived matches were higher when the emotional responses were similar and that a model including emotional dimensions captured a significant amount of the variance of match scores, providing new evidence that crossmodal correspondences are mediated by emotions.

This according to “The smell of jazz: Crossmodal correspondences between music, odor, and emotion” by Carmel A. Levitan, Sara A. Charney, Karen B. Schloss, and Stephen E. Palmer, a paper included in Proceedings of the 37th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (Austin: The Cognitive Science Society, 2015, pp. 1326–1331).

Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention, and for noting that “fishy was comprehensively unpopular, except with the category heavy metal, where it was first on the list.”

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Synesthesia with wine

In an experiment, 250 adults were offered a glass of wine in return for answering a few questions about its taste. After clearing their palates, each received a glass of either cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay and was taken to one of five rooms: four that each featured a different type of music playing in a continuous loop, and a silent one serving as a control. Participants were asked to spend about five minutes sipping the wine, and were told not to converse.

A smaller pilot study had determined the four types of music:

  • “powerful and heavy” (“O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina burana)
  • “subtle and refined” (“Вальс цветов” [Val’s cvetov/Waltz of the flowers] from Cajkovskij’s Щелкунчик [Ŝelkunčik/Nutcracker])
  • “zingy and refreshing” (Nouvelle Vague’s Just can’t get enough)
  • “mellow and soft” (Michael Brook’s Breakdown)

After drinking the wine and listening to the music, participants were asked to rate the wine’s taste on a scale from zero to ten in the categories represented by the music types. In each case, participants perceived the wine in a manner consistent with the music they had listened to while drinking it.

This according to “Wine & song: The effect of background music on the taste of wine” by Adrian C. North (Wineanorak, 2008). In an earlier experiment, documented in “The influence of in-store music on wine selections” (Journal of applied psychology LXXXIV/2 [April 1999] pp. 271–276), North and two colleagues demonstrated that playing music identified with a particular country in a wine shop had a positive influence on sales of wine from that country.

For a related post, see As bitter as a trombone. Below, Placido Domingo shares observations on wine and synesthesia from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.

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As bitter as a trombone

Data from an experiment in which subjects listened to a series of pitches played on various instruments while tasting flavors such as lemon, peppermint, and salt showed significant connections between the sounds of the instruments and flavor perceptions.

For example, the taste of sugar was considered inappropriate for brass instruments, while it matched well with the piano. Orange-flower went with brass but not with strings, while coffee failed to correspond with brass but suited woodwinds nicely. “Our results”, the researchers noted with commendable practicality, “raise important questions about our representation of tastes and flavors and could also lead to applications in the marketing of food products.”

This according to “As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic correspondences in nonsynesthetes between tastes/flavors and musical notes” by Anne-Sylvie Crisinel and Charles Spence (Attention, perception, and psychophysics LXXII/7 [October 2010], pp. 1994-2002). Thanks to the Improbable research blog for bringing this to our attention!

Below, the picante trombones of Willie Colón’s band, ca. 1967.

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