Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience

Cross-modal correspondences: Looking for links between sound symbolism and synaesthesia, and their application to multisensory marketing

“Are lemons fast or slow?”; “Is carbonated water round or angular?” Most people agree on their answers to these questions. These are examples of correspondences, that is, the tendency for a feature, in one sensory modality, either physically present, or merely imagined, to be matched (or associated) with a feature, either physically present, or merely imagined, in another modality. Crossmodal correspondences appear to exist between all pairings of senses, and have been shown to affect everything from people’s speeded responses to their performance in unspeeded psychophysical tasks. While some correspondences are culture-specific (e.g., the correspondence between angularity and bitterness), others are likely to be universal (e.g., the correspondence between auditory pitch and visual or haptic size, for example). Intriguingly, some animals (e.g., chimpanzees), as well as young infants, appear to be sensitive to certain crossmodal correspondences. In this talk, I will discuss a number of the explanations that have been put forward to account for the existence of crossmodal correspondences. I will also examine the relationship between crossmodal correspondences and sound symbolism, and tackle the thorny question of whether crossmodal correspondences should be thought of as a kind of synaesthesia that is common to us all. Finally, I will highlight some of the latest marketing applications that are now emerging from basic research on crossmodal correspondences in the design of everything from beverage labels through to the music you listen to while drinking your coffee (or cognac), and the dishes that are starting to appear at modernist restaurants.