Romke Rouw: Individual Differences in Sensations.

Date and time: 10 June 2016. 15:00-16:00

Location: F3.20. (one floor above the ILLC) Science Park 107 (Access via the NIKHEF entrance at Science Park 105)

Speaker: Romke Rouw (Brain and Cognition, Dept. Psychology, University of Amsterdam)

Title: Individual Differences in Sensations.

Abstract: We traditionally learn that we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. This is not always the case, however, as our sensations and experiences often seem only very loosely related to the stimulus input that we receive from the environment. Furthermore, the same stimulus input can lead to very different sensations in different people. These individual differences offer an extraordinary opportunity to study the cognitive and neurological mechanisms involved in creating sensations and experiences. I will present conditions where otherwise normal (and healthy) people have extraordinary sensations. In these special “cases” the properties of the private sensations can not easily be traced back to the properties of the stimulus, providing an interesting parallel with (individual differences in) experiencing music. I study synesthesia, where a particular experience (e.g. seeing the letter R) will evoke another, seemingly unrelated, sensation (e.g. seeing the color bright-red). The induced sensations can also be cross modal, for example when musicians can ‘see’ their music as synesthetic (perceptual) sensations of color and form. While synesthesia generally is experienced as interesting and pleasant, people with misophonia have unusual sensations that bother them, or even disrupt their daily lives. Misophonia is a relatively unexplored chronic condition in which a person experiences an involuntary “fight-or- flight” response to certain human-made and repetitive sounds such as chewing, pen clicking and lip smacking. There is an interesting counter-condition called ASMR, where particular human-made sounds (whispering, tapping, soft scratching sounds) evoke highly pleasant and relaxing feelings. I study the cognitive and neurological mechanisms involved in explaining the discrepancy between sensations (the private experience) and perception (of the objective stimulus). I will present structural and functional brain differences between synesthetes and non-synesthetes, and show how these neurological differences relate to the phenomonological properties of the synesthetic responses. Furthermore, I present behavioral tests of these conditions, developed to capture the severity and consistency of unusual (synesthetic/misophonic) sensations. I will discuss if these tendencies of ‘abnormal’ sensory processes relate to other cognitive, psychological or even clinical profiles. If time permits, I will also present new (misophonia) research plans using detection/thresholding tasks and physiological (EMG and ECG) measurements.