Have you ever said something to a friend or family member that they thought was really strange? Like maybe that a certain song sounded orange or that you could ‘see’ music? Or that the number 5 is green to you? If so, you may have Synesthesia, a neurological condition that scientists are still trying to figure out more about it and why it happens. The word means to blend the five senses. People with synesthesia (known as synesthetes), experience the world differently – to put it simply, think of it like crossed wires in their brains – their senses are hooked up to each other in weird ways where one sensory source produces another result – such as tasting sounds or hearing colours. There are many different types of synesthesia such as Chromesthesia – where a person hears a sound and sees a colour associated with it (high pitched sounds are often brighter colours and lower sounds are darker). Different people may see a certain sound as a different colour. One of the most common forms of this condition is grapheme-color synesthesia– where people will see letters or numbers with different colours. For example ‘A’ might be yellow and 12 might be a shade of blue.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this video is for general information purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional
With that said, here are 6 interesting things about synesthesia.
1) Most are born with it and it runs in families
According to Jacoby Bancroft on Ranker.com, researchers think everyone has synesthesia when they are born but you just grow out of it as you grow up. But there are cases of people developing it later on in life. Both of these are called Developmental Synesthesia. But some people suddenly gain these abilities due to medical issues like strokes, tumors or brain injury and this is known as acquired synesthesia. Also the condition can be inherited and that around 40% of synesthetes have another close family member with it, and scientists have discovered that a specific gene on chromosome 16 causes grapheme-color synesthesia but don’t know why. But scientists think that .5 to 1% of people have it.
2) Left Handed People and Women are More Likely to have it
Again, scientists don’t know why, but it turns out that studies in the US show that women are three more likely, and in the UK for some reason, eight times more likely to have it. And strangely more synesthetes are left handed compared to the rest of us.
3) When sick their ‘abilities’ can change
When a synesthete comes down with a cold, flu or something like an ear infection, being sick can affect how they experience their condition – either strengthening or weakening it, or it just is out of whack and not ‘right’. For example, a sound-colour synesthete with a blocked ear will not only lose their hearing but the colours they usually experience will be different. And if you have the condition and also depression? You might find that it temporarily leaves altogether.
4) There are over 80 different kinds of it
Our senses can be linked with each other in a large combination of ways, and also with other things like personality traits. And most people with the condition only have two senses linked (i.e. sight and sound) but some have three or more and according to BetterHelp there has been at least one case where someone had connections between all five!
And there are two major groups of synesthetes. One is called Projective where the person hears, smells, tastes or feels the second sense, and where it is projected in front of you. For example tasting blueberries when you hear a specific piano note. The second is Associative meaning that they have a connection between a stimulus and a sense but only associate it in their minds, not directly experience it. With the example above where the first group actually tastes blueberries hearing a certain note, someone in the second group would just have an association between the note and blueberries. In other words that note would remind them or make them think of blueberries. Of course someone could belong to a mix of both of these groups.
Some rarer forms of it are: Auditory-Tactile (or hearing-touch – where sounds cause the person to feel sensations inside or outside their bodies (sometimes pleasant, others not so much). Similar to that is mirror-touch where they can feel pain if they see someone else in pain. Not very fun! Another rare form is Lexical-Gustatory (and Sound Gustatory) when people can taste, smell or feel words (either spoken or written) either in the mouth as if actually eating it or it evokes the tastes in their mind. And one of the rarest is Misophonia which is having negative experiences to sounds (such as breathing, and chewing).
5) You Can Teach Yourself Synesthesia
Synesthesia has many benefits such as it can help with memory and creativity. According to Psychology professor Berit Brogaard who has the condition herself, you can teach yourself some tricks for learning it, by associating two different things together, and it takes practice and patience. Once you start associating two things together you start to build new neural pathways in the brain. If you learn to associate colours with something else, that can help you remember things because we remember colours more easily than other things. You can use meditation or the practice of mindfulness to help you perceive and experience synesthesia. Mindfulness is shifting your attention to your senses, so learning to become aware of your senses can help you start to perceive synesthesia (as most people with the condition, don’t actually realize they have it!).
6) Ideasthesia vs. Synesthesia
Ideasthesia is kind of an off-shoot of synesthesia. Synesthesia is when a sensory experience is associated with another sense. For example when you hear music, you see a colour. Ideasthesia is when a concept, like a letter or number, which aren’t ‘real’ things but abstract concepts, triggers a sensory experience, like seeing a certain colour. And concepts can also trigger other concepts – like a letter or number can have a gender or personality. They aren’t senses, but they are ‘ideas’.
If you think you might have a form of synesthesia, it’s recommended to reach out to a mental health professional to help you explore your experiences and support you if you have negative impacts from it.
Feel free to let us know in the comments below if you have a type of synesthesia! And share this article with someone who you think might benefit from it.
Thanks for reading and take good care!
Bancroft, J (2019, sept 5) 16 colorful facts you should know about synesthesia. Ranker.com https://www.ranker.com/list/what-is-synesthesia/jacobybancroft
Synesthi, M. (2012, Sept 10) Disadvantages to Synesthesia. Listverse. https://listverse.com/2012/09/02/10-disadvantages-to-synesthesia/
Synesthesia: the crossing of the senses- One of the 9 most extraordinary abilities of humans. Fun Facts – Synesthesia https://space-timesynesthesia.weebly.com/fun-facts.html (Accessed 2021/09/09)
Horn, A (2021, may 17) The Many Types of Synesthesia Explained. Better Help.com https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/synesthesia/the-many-types-of-synesthesia-explained/
Gregoire, C (2015, Sept 1) Yes, You Can Teach Yourself Synesthesia (And Here’s Why You Should) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-neuroscientists-guide-to-developing-synesthesia_n_55e4b004e4b0aec9f35429c9
(n.d.). Types of Synesthesia. Synesthesia.com https://synesthesia.com/blog/types-of-synesthesia/ (Accessed 2021/09/09)