“Vision might be special” – Ophelia Deroy (London)


What is the most interesting paper you came across recently? Why?

I have been very interested by Fryer et al. (2014)’s recent study on speech symbolism where they used a tactile version of the famous ‘maluma-takete’ experiment proposed by Kohler in the late 1920’s. Kohler, and many researchers after him, established that certain speech sounds bias us toward certain visual features : In a simple forced choice task for instance, people will choose an angular rather than a rounded shape as the best match for the word “Takete”. There has been very interesting investigation of the neural underpinnings of this correspondence, and its consequences on word learning – but to this day, nobody had looked at whether speech sounds would also correspond to tactile angularity, and not just visual. And surprisingly, what Fryer and colleagues have shown is that only sighted individuals pair speech sounds with properties of the shape they touch. Blind individuals don’t. This suggests that vision might be special when it comes to establishing correspondences across distinct modalities.

What’s your preferred sensory modality?

At the moment, I am really fascinated by touch and audition – and how they interact. One of my colleagues, Vincent Hayward, claims that they are one and the same sense – so I guess it ticks the box for the question !

Whose work had the biggest influence on your life?

Charles Spence – without question. Most of the elements I know about multisensory interactions come from his papers and from discussions I had with him. He is my favourite sceptic, and he always find some conceptual or methodological challenge to raise about everything.

Could you describe one mundane detail of your research day?

I always listen to Chet Baker when I need to concentrate on writing. Or if I can’t, I simply imagine one of his songs playing.

What would you like to see happening in the field in the next five years?

More collaborations between philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists. We are already getting there !

Any artist you would like to work with?

Evelyn Glennie ; she is a wonderful percussionist. She is also deaf, and has a fascinating way to relate to sounds through touch.

How does your work connect to real life applications?

The work I have been doing on crossmodal correspondences has great applications when it comes to enhancing perception in one sensory modality – and we are now working with Tate Galleries to see  how they can enhance evaluation and memory as well.



Featured photo credit: Tumbler.

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