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An interpretative phenomenological analysis exploring synesthesia as an exceptional experience: insights for consciousness and cognition

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Previous research has indicated that there may be a role for synesthesia in exceptional experiences, including experiences which have been labeled “paranormal.” The current project sought to further understand what it is like to experience the world synesthetically and how synesthesia can inform our understanding of exceptional experiences (ExE). A case study was undertaken with a 27-year-old male participant (“Harry”) who experienced several forms of strong synesthesia in addition to exceptional experiences and cognitive and perceptual abilities (e.g., subjective paranormal experiences, musical ability, mathematical ability, enhanced memory skills). A semi-structured interview exploring his experiences was undertaken. An interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was conducted on the interview transcripts, which resulted in the identification of five main themes. The themes can be summarized as relationship with synesthesia, complexity/kaleidoscope of representations, access to meaning, control of synesthesia and manipulation of representations, and exceptional abilities. The synesthesias appear to bestow an ability to represent (and access meanings associated with) subtle and abstract aspects of Harry‘s lived experience including ExEs and appear to be aligned with strong metacognitive abilities. Findings corroborate recent research in neuroscience which suggest that synesthetic experiences are associated with the activation of concepts.
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Keywords: Exceptional experiences; interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA); metacognition; paranormal; phenomenological; synesthesia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of West Georgia, Carrollton, Georgia, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2016

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