How automatic are crossmodal correspondences?
Spence C., Deroy O.
The last couple of years have seen a rapid growth of interest (especially amongst cognitive psychologists, cognitive neuroscientists, and developmental researchers) in the study of crossmodal correspondences - the tendency for our brains (not to mention the brains of other species) to preferentially associate certain features or dimensions of stimuli across the senses. By now, robust empirical evidence supports the existence of numerous crossmodal correspondences, affecting people's performance across a wide range of psychological tasks - in everything from the redundant target effect paradigm through to studies of the Implicit Association Test, and from speeded discrimination/classification tasks through to unspeeded spatial localisation and temporal order judgment tasks. However, one question that has yet to receive a satisfactory answer is whether crossmodal correspondences automatically affect people's performance (in all, or at least in a subset of tasks), as opposed to reflecting more of a strategic, or top-down, phenomenon. Here, we review the latest research on the topic of crossmodal correspondences to have addressed this issue. We argue that answering the question will require researchers to be more precise in terms of defining what exactly automaticity entails. Furthermore, one's answer to the automaticity question may also hinge on the answer to a second question: Namely, whether crossmodal correspondences are all 'of a kind', or whether instead there may be several different kinds of crossmodal mapping (e.g., statistical, structural, and semantic). Different answers to the automaticity question may then be revealed depending on the type of correspondence under consideration. We make a number of suggestions for future research that might help to determine just how automatic crossmodal correspondences really are.