This review deals with the question of the relative vs absolute nature of crossmodal correspondences, with a specific focus on those correspondences involving the auditory dimension of pitch. Crossmodal correspondences have been defined as the often-surprising crossmodal associations that people experience between features, attributes, or dimensions of experience in different sensory modalities, when either physically present, or else merely imagined. In the literature, crossmodal correspondences have often been contrasted with synaesthesia in that the former are frequently said to be relative phenomena (e.g., it is the higher-pitched of two sounds that is matched with the smaller of two visual stimuli, say, rather than there being a specific one-to-one crossmodal mapping between a particular pitch of sound and size of object). By contrast, in the case of synaesthesia, the idiosyncratic mapping between inducer and concurrent tends to be absolute (e.g., it is a particular sonic inducer that elicits a specific colour concurrent). However, a closer analysis of the literature soon reveals that the distinction between relative and absolute in the case of crossmodal correspondences may not be as clear-cut as some commentators would have us believe. Furthermore, it is important to note that the relative vs absolute question may receive different answers depending on the particular (class of) correspondence under empirical investigation.
Theorizing around the topic of attention and its role in human information processing largely emerged out of research on the so-called spatial senses: vision, audition, and to a lesser extent, touch. Thus far, the chemical senses have received far less research interest (or should that be attention) from those experimental psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists interested in the topic. Nevertheless, this review highlights the key role that attentional selection also plays in chemosensory information processing and awareness. Indeed, many of the same theoretical approaches/experimental paradigms that were originally developed in the context of the spatial senses, can be (and in some cases already have been) extended to provide a useful framework for thinking about the perception of taste/flavour. Furthermore, a number of those creative individuals interested in modifying the perception of taste/flavour by manipulating product-extrinsic cues (such as, for example, music in the case of sonic seasoning) are increasingly looking to attentional accounts in order to help explain the empirical phenomena that they are starting to uncover. However, separate from its role in explaining sonic seasoning, gaining a better understanding of the role of attentional distraction in modulating our eating/drinking behaviours really ought to be a topic of growing societal concern. This is because distracted diners (e.g., those who eat while watching TV, fiddling with a mobile device or smartphone, or even while driving) consume significantly more than those who mindfully pay attention to the sensations associated with eating and drinking.
The last 50 years or so has seen great optimism concerning the potential of sensory substitution and augmentation devices to enhance the lives of those with (or even those without) some form of sensory loss (in practice, this has typically meant those who are blind or suffering from low vision). One commonly discussed solution for those individuals who are blind has been to use one of a range of tactile–visual sensory substitution systems that represent objects captured by a camera as outline images on the skin surface in real-time (what Loomis, Klatzky and Giudice, 2012, term general-purpose sensory substitution devices). However, despite the fact that touch, like vision, initially codes information spatiotopically, I would like to argue that a number of fundamental perceptual, attentional, and cognitive limitations constraining the processing of tactile information mean that the skin surface is unlikely ever to provide such general-purpose sensory substitution capabilities. At present, there is little evidence to suggest that the extensive cortical plasticity that has been demonstrated in those who have lost (or never had) a sense can do much to overcome the limitations associated with trying to perceive high rates of spatiotemporally varying information presented via the skin surface (no matter whether that surface be the back, stomach, forehead, or tongue). Instead, the use of the skin will likely be restricted to various special-purpose devices that enable specific activities such as navigation, the control of locomotion, pattern perception, etc.
A wide variety of crossmodal correspondences, defined as the often surprising connections that people appear to experience between simple features, attributes, or dimensions of experience, either physically present or else merely imagined, in different sensory modalities, have been demonstrated in recent years. However, a number of crossmodal correspondences have also been documented between more complex (i.e., multi-component) stimuli, such as, for example, pieces of music and paintings. In this review, the extensive evidence supporting the emotional mediation account of the crossmodal correspondences between musical stimuli (mostly pre-recorded short classical music excerpts) and visual stimuli, including colour patches through to, on occasion, paintings, is critically evaluated. According to the emotional mediation account, it is the emotional associations that people have with stimuli that constitutes one of the fundamental bases on which crossmodal associations are established. Taken together, the literature that has been published to date supports emotional mediation as one of the key factors underlying the crossmodal correspondences involving emotionally-valenced stimuli, both simple and complex.
The last few years have seen an explosive growth of research interest in the crossmodal correspondences, the sometimes surprising associations that people experience between stimuli, attributes, or perceptual dimensions, such as between auditory pitch and visual size, or elevation. To date, the majority of this research has tended to focus on audiovisual correspondences. However, a variety of crossmodal correspondences have also been demonstrated with tactile stimuli, involving everything from felt shape to texture, and from weight through to temperature. In this review, I take a closer look at temperature-based correspondences. The empirical research not only supports the existence of robust crossmodal correspondences between temperature and colour (as captured by everyday phrases such as ‘red hot’) but also between temperature and auditory pitch. Importantly, such correspondences have (on occasion) been shown to influence everything from our thermal comfort in coloured environments through to our response to the thermal and chemical warmth associated with stimulation of the chemical senses, as when eating, drinking, and sniffing olfactory stimuli. Temperature-based correspondences are considered in terms of the four main classes of correspondence that have been identified to date, namely statistical, structural, semantic, and affective. The hope is that gaining a better understanding of temperature-based crossmodal correspondences may one day also potentially help in the design of more intuitive sensory-substitution devices, and support the delivery of immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences.