Synesthesia: senses joined together

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which a person experiences “crossed” responses to stimuli. It occurs when stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway (e.g., hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (e.g., vision).


Music can be colored, letters and figures can be associated with genders and personality, and forms can have tastes. There are many different types of synesthesias; every sense can theoretically be coupled with any other sense. Synesthesia is not the product of imagination or hallucination. It is the result of enhanced neuronal connections.

When we are born, our brain has not yet differentiated itself into different components for different senses. So as babies, it is theorized that we view the world as a large, pulsing combination of colors and sounds and feelings, all melded into one experience – ultimate synesthesia. As our brains develop, certain areas become specialized in vision, speech, hearing, and so forth. In other words, they lose the connection they once had as a whole.

That doesn’t exactly happen in a synesthetic brain. Because of a mutation, areas normally disconnected retain certain connections, which causes unusual associations. The location of gene expression leads to two different types of synesthesia:

  1. If the gene is expressed in the brain area concerned with perception (fusiform gyrus) we have a perceptual synesthesia, in which people will actually perceive, for instance, a number five colored in red.
  2. If the gene is expressed in the brain area involved in processing concepts (angular gyrus) a conceptual synesthesia results, in which people will not physically see the color red when presented with a number five, but will nevertheless experience an association between the two concepts.

Synesthesia is NOT a disease. Those affected usually carry an above average intelligence and the chance of them having mental disorders is not greater than that of any other person.

The estimated occurrence of synesthesia ranges from rarer than one in 20,000 to as prevalent as one in 200. That makes about 5 percent of the population. And it’s more common in females, in a ratio of 6:1.

Of the various manifestations of synesthesia, the most common, involves seeing monochromatic letters, digits and words in unique colors. This is called grapheme-color synesthesia. Such synesthetes associate a determinate color to those letters, number and words, even if the characters are already colored. 2 may be orange or any other color, but it’ll always be blue for the synesthete.

Other types of synesthesia (the most commonly reported) are:

  • Sound-to-Color Synesthesia: sound triggers the visualization of colored, generic shapes.
  • Number-Form Synesthesia: the tought of numbers makes the person involuntarily visualize a number map.
  • Personification/ordinal-linguistic personification (OLP): association of ordered sequences (numbers, letters, months…) with various personalities. For example, a person with OLP may look at the letter ‘A’ and think in his mind that ‘A’ is a rude letter.
  • Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia: evocation of different kinds of tastes when hearing certain words or phonemes.

The lack of information about synesthesia lead to the circumstance that synaesthetes were classified long time as “ill”, as “people with great fantasy”, or as “Acid-Junkies” or “Pot-Heads”.

How to know if you are Synesthete?

Synesthesia requires attention, otherwise you do not perceive it. There are many people who have it, but many are not aware of it. As we all are born being synesthetes, a child who has grown accustomed to the sensory stimulation may not interpret all of this as irregular or different from the norm. It can be suspected a person has synesthesia when he or she displays any of the following things:

  • Irregular Sensory Experiences: the most determining of the symptoms of synesthesia, as it is also the very definition of the condition. “Eyes cannot taste”, “ears cannot see”, and so on.
  • Consistent Reactionary Triggers: the same trigger will always cause the same senses to intertwine. A synesthete will not experience two different reactions from the same trigger.
  • Involuntary and Automatic Perception: a person with grapheme to color synesthesia will be able to determine automatically what color certain letters are. If the person being tested expends mental effort to recall the color that they previously assigned to a given letter, they are most likely not synesthetic.
  • Simple and Objective Sensations: visual synesthetic sensations will consist of a geometric pattern or a color, rather than a complex visualization. –Perceptions are simple after all-.
Conclusion: Synesthesia is perceiving the world with blended senses in the here and now.

There are many people with synesthesia, but most are not aware of it. Slowly we realize, that ist is more common than assumed. And many are not aware of it.

Maybe you too?

What is synesthesia? by Thomas J. Palmeri, Randolph B. Blake and Ren Marois
Are You a Synesthete? by Darya L. Zabelina Ph.D. 
Types of Synesthesia 
Symptoms of Synesthesia
Synesthesia: blending of the senses
The history of synesthesia by Jörg Jewanskis)

I truly recommend and its Sensorium if you suspect you might be synesthete. It is full of exercices that will help you to understand your condition and help you to better control it (I messed around a little, tough I’m not synesthete, and I believe it’s really well done)

To the SYNESTHETES, hope this article helped you to find out why you see the world in your peculiar and amazing way. And to the NON-SYNESTHETES, well, hope it was interesting enough and that you liked it of course.

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