Synesthesia: The blending of the senses

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lordeHave you ever looked at the number three and decided that its colour is red? Or perhaps you’ve been at a concert and the sound of the guitar you can actually feel on the side of your arm, whilst the vocalist you can feel on your right ankle? These experiences may be a sign you have synesthesia. Some of the most famous people of all time are said to have had and have it too, from the legend that is Jimi Hendrix, to New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde and even Kanye West himself.

What is synesthesia?synesthesia image

According to Psychology Today, Synesthesia is a neurological condition where a person experiences ‘crossed’ responses to stimuli? To simplify, it’s essentially the blending of how we experience our senses, so whilst one sense is being stimulated, a second sense is involuntarily activated too.

Synesthetes (people who experience the blending of senses), can encounter their senses in a variety of combinations, from sounds that produce particular shapes and letters that are certain colours for example.

Here are some interesting facts about synesthesia:

  • Research suggests that about one in 2,000 people are synesthetes, However some experts believe as many as one in 300 people have some form of the condition
  • People with synesthesia can experience their senses in a variety of ways. At least 60 types of this condition have been reported
  • About 40 percent of synesthetes have a first-degree relative who has the same condition
  • Synesthesia is a lot more common in women than men, with a 6:1 female to male ratio of synesthetes

What are the most common types of synesthesia?

Grapheme-color synesthesia – As the most common form of this condition, people who experience this will look at numbers of individual letters in the alphabet and see them as having a certain colour. For example the number ten is green and the letter M is purple.

Chromesthesia – Also common, this condition is when sound is associated with colours. Reactions to sounds vary considerably, with some people seeing specific colours as particular musical notes are being played, whilst others may have multiple sensory reactions to everyday sounds, such as a car beeping or people talking. The colours triggered by these particular sounds are known as photisms.

Spatial sequence synesthesia – People with this type of synesthesia tend to see numerical sequences as points in space. For example the number one may be closer than the number two. Days of the week and months of the year can also be visualised in this way, and it’s believed that people who experience this are far better at remembering past events than those that don’t have the condition.

Other types of synesthesia include:

  • Auditory-tactile synesthesia – this is when certain sounds can trigger sensations of touch at certain points across the body
  • mirroringMirror-touch synesthesia – this is a rare condition and those that have this will experience the same sensations of touch as another person. For example, if a synesthete watches someone’s hand get touched, they involuntarily feel their hand being touched as well
  • Lexical-gustatory synesthesia – another rare condition, this is when particular tastes are experienced when hearing words.

Symptoms of synesthesia

Nearly all those that suffer from synesthesia can’t remember when they first started experiencing the world in this way. Some scientists believe the condition develops before a child is even four months old. Whilst a young child at this age may not realise their experiences are different to the norm, parents should watch out for the following symptoms that might indicate they have synesthesia:

  • Irregular sensory experiences – essentially the core definition of the condition, if a child expresses that their ears can taste and their eyes can hear, this is a key sign they may have it
  • child eyesAutomatic reactions – you can’t fake having synesthesia, and one of the telling symptoms of this condition is theautomatic nature of their reactions. For example it would take someone with Grapheme-color synesthesia less than an instant to determine the colour of a letter or number and be able to recall this as well if asked about multiple figures. If it requires too much brain power, you probably don’t suffer from it.
  • Triggers that consistently cause the same reaction – Testing and then re-testing to find out whether someone reacts the same way to a particular trigger is an effective way of determining if they have synesthetes, as their reaction will always be the same to the same trigger

Our senses are our fundamental tools to see and experience the world and the individual ways in which we perceive our surroundings should be embraced and celebrated.

cute kid eyes


Psychology Today

Mother Nature Network

See more of our posts on eye health, laser eye surgery and vision, here  

By: David

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