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Interview with Aurelia Gooden

Interviewer: Jameela Lawal

Editor: Vicky Lam

Closer: Sarea Leung

Learn about Aurelia Gooden, a talented engineer and passionate musician, who navigates through life with four different types of synesthesia.

Read more into Gooden’s musical journey, including experiences with chromesthesia, and opinions on the relationship between neuroscience and the workplace, whether it be about the external noisy stimuli or impacts of lighting on the amygdala.  

Could you give us a brief introduction of yourself?

I am an engineer/musician and I enjoy learning foreign languages, scientific research, etc.


How has learning about neuroscience/the brain influenced your views as an engineer?

As an engineer, there are a lot of social interactions and other stimuli in the workplace.  Because of this, there are plenty of distractions for employees. Generally, I try to be mindful of external stimuli during my interactions with operators, etc. and remember which parts of the brain are being stimulated through our interactions and the potential results of the stimulation. For instance, I typically do not expect anyone to remember an instruction that was provided only once and in a noisy environment, because if there was any distraction, the person will begin to struggle to recall anything due to difficulties in the verification stage involving interactions between the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex.


Do you, and how do you see neuroscience findings being implemented to enhance workplace performance, either in humans or otherwise (e.g. AI)?

Understanding neuroscience provides a very powerful tool to managers. For instance, the amygdala is the region of the brain that regulates emotion; however, the amygdala is affected by light because it responds to light that is transmitted through the retina. This is the reason that many people experience calmness when working in well-lit rooms because light subdues some activity within the amygdala. This knowledge could allow researchers to conduct experiments to find the best level of lighting in the workplace that is conducive to calming emotions.


I read that the relationship between musical aptitude and neuroscience is of great interest to you. What is it specifically that piques your interest?

It is specifically the phenomenon of absolute pitch that piques my interest. It is estimated that about 1 in 10,000 people have absolute pitch, which is the ability to identify a pitch immediately upon hearing it. Surprisingly, simply being trained in music results in relative pitch (an identification of a pitch through intervallic determination), but this is quite different.  I participated in a related study with The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and it was found that I could identify the pitch of a given note at any octave with 99% accuracy; this is unusual.  However, I also experience chromesthesia (a type of synesthesia) and hearing any pitch automatically triggers the sensory output of a color.  Therefore, even if I did not completely hear a pitch, I can identify it by the “color”.


I read that you started your musical journey as early as the age of four. Do you think this early incorporation of music in your life has benefited you in any way?

Yes! Studying music helped me to develop determination and ambition.  If I wanted to learn to perform a difficult piece of music, I had to become committed to practicing regularly.


If you were to pursue academic research in neuroscience, what topic(s) would you be most interested in focusing on?

My current dissertation is about the relationship between neuroscience involving neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals, the manner in which it influences workplace behavior, and the psychological effects of any interdependent factors.

I read that you are a synesthete. For many, this may have been the first time they’ve heard of the term. Could you explain in your own words what that means, and share your experience living with synesthesia?

Synesthesia is the result of a cross-wiring within the brain, which results in more than one output for certain types of sensory input. There are several types of synesthesia, but I have the following: ticker-tape synesthesia, pitch synesthesia (chromesthesia), spatial sequence synesthesia, and color-taste synesthesia. 

Ticker-tape synesthesia causes spoken words to appear as if the words are typed. For me, this is particularly useful in conferences where multiple conversations are occurring at once, because I can mentally store some conversations to “read” later while actively listening and participating in other conversations. Once, I was in a workshop and there were three conversations occurring: one in French, one in Italian, and the other in English. I chose to listen to the conversation in French (because I am actively learning French right now) and I decided to store the Italian / English conversations so that I could “read” them afterwards.

 I have also found having color-taste synesthesia to be particularly interesting. When hard surfaces have pigment of any kind, I can “taste” it (meaning that the sight of the color triggers a sensory response of taste).  Each shade of any color has a unique taste. This strange phenomenon served me well when I worked with a quality analysis group because I could detect any variation in the shade of paint on a vehicle because I could also “taste” it.  I also normally perform quite well on the Farnsworth Munsell 100 Hue Test.



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