Publication Date



PLoS One


synaesthesia; synesthesia; synesthete; grapheme


In this paper we estimate the minimum prevalence of grapheme-color synesthetes with letter-color matches learned from an external stimulus, by analyzing a large sample of English-speaking grapheme-color synesthetes. We find that at least 6% (400/6588 participants) of the total sample learned many of their matches from a widely available colored letter toy. Among those born in the decade after the toy began to be manufactured, the proportion of synesthetes with learned letter-color pairings approaches 15% for some 5-year periods. Among those born 5 years or more before it was manufactured, none have colors learned from the toy. Analysis of the letter-color matching data suggests the only difference between synesthetes with matches to the toy and those without is exposure to the stimulus. These data indicate learning of letter-color pairings from external contingencies can occur in a substantial fraction of synesthetes, and are consistent with the hypothesis that grapheme-color synesthesia is a kind of conditioned mental imagery.