New frontiers for Neuroscience: Synaesthesia, a new bridge to communication

Luigi Toiati
Focus, Italy


Have you ever asked yourselves when listening to Ringo Starr who is going to look after us when we are 64 ... and older?

Nearly always, for us qualitative researchers, anyone over 65 years of age is banned from participating in group interviews because he or she is in turn part of a target banned from the market. For the “elderly” there are only a few embarrassing niches: denture fixative, incontinence pads, medicines, orthopedic equipment.

However I've learnt from direct experience that this “abandoned” target has great human potential, and that specific disciplines such as Synaesthesia help us investigate their world more directly. For about 18 months I have been working, initially as a volunteer and now as a consultant, in a clinic for physically and mentally ill elderly patients. That is with the less fortunate part of this target. They are certainly not potential consumers, and my aim is not to understand how to make them buy frozen carrots or Armani suits, but rather to establish communication that helps them, through real “mind gymnastics”, recuperate parts of themselves that have been abandoned – and above all the dignity that is so important to have when you know that death is not far off. Synaesthesia is the branch of neuroscience that studies anomalies of perception: subjects who have a multi-coloured vision by listening to a voice, or see numbers and letters in colour, hear a sound by looking pictures, etc. Synaesthesia (etymologically 'correspondence between senses'), means perceiving a sense through other parallel ones, smell with hearing, and so on. A piece of music is soft, a kiss is red hot, we are blind with rage. Recently, it has been adopted by qualitative research.