It has recently been reported in the synesthesia literature that graphemes sharing the same phonetic feature tend to induce similar synesthetic colors. In the present study, we investigated whether phonetic properties are associated with colors in a specific manner among the general population, even when other visual and linguistic features of graphemes are removed. To test this hypothesis, we presented vowel sounds synthesized by systematically manipulating the position of the tongue body’s center. Participants were asked to choose a color after hearing each sound. Results from the main experiment showed that lightness and chromaticity of matched colors exhibited systematic variations along the two axes of the position of the tongue body’s center. Some non-random associations between vowel sounds and colors remained effective with pitch and intensity of the sounds equalized in the control experiment, which suggests that other acoustic factors such as inherent pitch of vowels cannot solely account for the current results. Taken together, these results imply that the association between phonetic features and colors is not random, and this synesthesia-like association is shared by people in the general population.
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A study in phonetic symbolism,
J. Exp. Psychol.12,