Do You Have Synesthesia?

A few weeks back, I was listening to The Skirted Roundtable and the topic of synesthesia came up. Even as a Psych major, I don’t ever remember having ever heard of it. Have you? I’m fascinated with almost any discussion about how our brains work…how we perceive our environment and how we think.

Synethesia, from the Greek words, “syn” (together) and “aesthesis” (perception) is a condition, for lack of a better word, where a person’s senses sort of overlap…one sense triggering another sense. Imagine if every single time you looked at a particular color, you sensed a particular taste or flavor. Or, what if letters or numbers always appeared to you in color. A person with synethesia might see the alphabet like this…although the colors would not all appear the same way to every person with this condition.


The most common form of synesthesia is associating letters and/or numbers with colors like you saw in the picture above. If you do not have synesthesia, letters/numbers that are written in black ink are just seen as black. But for people with synesthesia, black letters and numbers are often colorful. Not all persons with synesthesia have the same sensations or experiences. One individual might look at the number 5 and have it appear as red while another person with synesthesia might see the number 5 as being purple.

Imagine seeing or associating the months of the year in color…pretty wild, huh?


In case you are wondering, I did read that certain drugs can trigger an experience like synesthesia. But for a person who has real synesthesia, the condition is completely involuntary. Some folks with synesthesia do not realize in their younger years that not everyone is seeing the world as they do. When a person with synesthesia figures this out, they often keep quiet about what they experience for fear of ridicule or being thought weird.

Synesthesia can take several forms…for instance some folks connect color and music…seeing a certain color when a particular musical note or instrument is played. Synesthesia can also involve taste, where a person tastes a particular flavor when they hear different words or names. It can even involve touch…with a person feeling shapes when they hear certain musical instruments.

Scientists do not know what causes synesthesia but they think it could be caused by “cross talk…a genetic neural connection over-abundance” or “a reduced amount of inhibition along feedback pathways.”

 

For more information on synesthesia, visit Wikipedia.

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Comments

  1. That is so fascinating! I think I have heard the word before but never knew too much about it. I also have words I don't like but my husband has even more! It makes for some great opportunities to torture him! 🙂
    From this Southern Girl at Heart,
    Vanessa
    http://southerninmyheart.blogspot.com

  2. Well, that's certainly interesting…never heard of this before. I imagine it must be somewhat difficult to live with any type of "abnormality" in a "normal" world. However, at least this isn't harmful or life-threatening. In some ways it might even be interesting….seeing music in color, tasting colors, etc. The world is certainly full of oddities.

  3. Yes, fascinating! There is a book called Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tament who is Autistic. He writes about how he sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures. His book is so interesting because even though he is Autistc, he is able to live a fully independent life and explain what is happening inside his head. Very interesting.

  4. Very interesting, Susan. Thanks for the education….Christine

  5. I've never heard the word before, but knew instantly what you were talking about. I experience smells where there aren't any all the time, just based on a word or phrase. (and I'm a pretty inhibited person, lol)

  6. Wow, Susan! What an interesting and different post! Thanks for sharing the information on this unique condition!

  7. Susan (Between Naps on the Porch) says

    Marti…that's amazing! Pretty cool!

  8. A friend of mine has this, she tastes sounds and sees flavours I think. It can really bugger up a good day depending on the environment, or food carving for that matter.

  9. My two kids (teenagers) both have it. They see colors associated with numbers, with days of the week, with months. My daughter sees colors associated with the high school classes she takes and she matches her folders/notebooks to those colors. I think they also see colors associated with certain music that they listen to. They think it's strange that they both have it but neither my husband nor i do.

  10. My two kids (teenagers) both have it. They see colors associated with numbers, with days of the week, with months. My daughter sees colors associated with the high school classes she takes and she matches her folders/notebooks to those colors. I think they also see colors associated with certain music that they listen to. They think it's strange that they both have it but neither my husband nor i do.

  11. I have heard of it, but I don't know anyone with that condition. I think it could be quite confusing.

  12. I don't see things in print in color but when someone calls a letter or number out I immediately see a color so I kind of "get it".
    Very interesting.
    L.

  13. Tales From My Empty Nest says

    This is interesting, but I have never heard of it before. Love & blessings from NC!

  14. My daughter has synesthesia. We discovered it 20 years ago when she was six. Out of the blue, she told me that she knew what color words, numbers and letters were. I wrote down her colors for the alphabet and numbers and quizzed her on them randomly for several weeks. They were always the same. She sees them in color in her mind's eye like we would see them in black in our mind's eye. I thought it was bizarre and asked teachers, psychologists, anyone I met who had any early childhood education and no one had heard of it. When she was in 9th grade one of her teachers saw colors for days of the week and asked her students if they saw colors for numbers, letters, etc. She called it synesthesia. Finally I had a name for it and could research it. The Science channel had a good documentary on it. Sometimes it's hereditory. I remember a story about a father and daughter arguing about what color the letter "O" was.

  15. Another thing…I noticed that when my daughter, Paige was in college, she would have a handful of colored markers for note taking and color code her notes. Also, since names have colors, she has colors for people according to their names. I'm brown. I'll ask her what color you are next time I talk to her. Sorry this was so long, but I've always been fascinated by this too.

  16. Well maybe that explains, sort of, why I associate taste with music!!! Somethings taste like violin music and somethings taste like a bass chello. Whenever I use that to explain a taste like high or low people look at me very strangely!!!!!!!

  17. The Country Nest says

    Wow, I never heard of that, but funny thing is I am a realtor and for the last 18 yrs I have used colored folders for cients and match the house key to the folder. I can always find a clients folder and even if I have to go back years later too find something I will remember what color the client was. Susan this was a great post. Thanks for the info.
    Donna

  18. My daughter (now 24) has it, but she didn't realize it till she was in college when a friend gave her a phone number, and my daughter said, "That's a really brown phone number." Of course her friend looked at her funny, but it was the first time my daughter realized that not everyone saw numbers as having a color associated with them. When she mentioned it to her psych professor, he told her about synesthesia and she realized she had it. We think, looking back, that synesthesia may explain why she had trouble with math…it didn't make sense to her that certain numbers could go together, because their colors do not go together. As her mother I was a little dismayed to find that my child had this phenomenon and I never knew.

  19. That is so fascinating! I'd never heard of it. While it would be normal for those with the condition, how confusing it must be. When the guy was explaining that the french horn in a symphony didn't go with any of the other colors, I was thinking to myself this condition could severely limit your likes and dislikes in the world.

  20. This is very interesting!

    Thanks for the fun post!

    Mary
    From Virginia

  21. That's pretty amazing stuff!

    Sue

  22. Laura @ 52 FLEA says

    Fascinating post! 🙂

  23. Nellie's Cozy place says

    morning susan
    that was very interesting! I have never heard of it before or known anyone that had it! that would add some real interest and challenge to life I would imagine.
    have a wonderful weekend hon,
    blessings, nellie

  24. I have heard of it, but I do not know anyone who has it. I do think it is facinating though. I am like you about not liking certain numbers and words. I do not like odd numbers and I find the sounds of some words facinating. Interesting post…thanks for sharing it.

  25. Barbara Anne says

    I saw the Science channel documentary and had never heard of this prior to that program. I'm a nurse, too! How did this escape mention in my schooling?

    all of my life I've had an aversion to some words and really like other words but I thought I was the only one!

    Isn't it all fascinating?

  26. I have it. I associate letters and numbers, words with colors, etc. I also have different colors for different types of pain. People definitely have their own color 😀

  27. Very interesting! I wasn't familiar with the term.

  28. If the 27 above comments are any indication I'd say the percentage is much higher than 1% of the population. Fascinating.

  29. How interesting! I have never heard of this and don't know anyone with it. It might be neat but then again it might be weird.

  30. Graceful Moments says

    I have a form of it…I see letters, numbers, weeks and months and years in graphic spatial patterns. For example…I see the days of the week in a long, continuous line that moves back and forth to the left and right as I think of the past week or the upcoming week. Most people, I think, see them as they are on a calendar but I don't…they just string out to infinity for me in both directions. However, the months of the year are in a sort of elipse that is tilted away from me, sort of like a racetrack. Numbers are linear like the days of the week.
    I know..it's weird to you but it works for me! LOL

  31. Thirty-Six Ten says

    So fascinating. I saw a program recently where a small child could play the piano really well because he saw the music as colors.

  32. Graceful Moments says

    I have a form of synesthesia. I see numbers, letters of the alphabet, days, months and years in graphic spatial forms but not in colors. For example, numbers are on a linear line that extends left and right. Days of the week are on the same type of linear line. The months of the year are in an ellipse, like a racetrack with the summer months closest to me in the straightaway and the fall months in the first curve to the right. It's weird to those who don't see it this way but it works for me.

  33. Days at Buttermilk Cottage says

    I've heard of this before. It's a really interesting subject. Your question of whether it would be harder or easier to decorate with this condition? Maybe the real trendsetters have a tendency toward it and pull the rest of us along. For example, remember when it was a real no-no to put green and blue together? Someone started doing it and more followed and now we're very accustomed to it. Am I making any sense??? At any rate, it's an interesting condition to ponder.
    Susan

  34. Hi Susan
    I am also interested in how the brain works and like to read books about it. That is a fascinating syndrome and I've never heard of it either. We are fearfully and wonderfully made!

  35. Hi old friend, I don't have this condition but I can tell you that being dyslexic as I am you could give me a map or a puzzle and I could never figure it out! Ahhhhh, the gift that keeps on giving. lol One thing I do know about dyslexic's is that they are normally very creative people. Maybe that is why I do well in home staging and my love of design. Love to you girl!

  36. I first heard about this in a novel I picked up at Barnes & Noble. The main character acquired it after a fall, I think. He ended up breaking up with his girlfriend/wife, one of the reasons being that he could tell when she was lying. He would see the color red, maybe red triangles? And knowing about this condition helped me answer a game show questions (just from home.) Interesting video.

  37. I've got it! I found out when I told my dad his name was yellow and everyone looked at me weird. Didn't find out it had a name for another two years though. But I've had it all my life, I used to tell mum she was colouring the letter the wrong colour in my scrapbook when she taught me to read. Apparently it's most prevalent in left-handed women.

  38. I've got it! I found out when I told my dad his name was yellow and everyone looked at me weird. Didn't find out it had a name for another two years though. But I've had it all my life, I used to tell mum she was colouring the letter the wrong colour in my scrapbook when she taught me to read. Apparently it's most prevalent in left-handed women.

  39. Hi Susan,
    This is so interesting. It may explain some things about one of my girls to me. Or else she is just unique!! 🙂
    Always fun to stop by and see what you're up to around here!
    Have a great weekend.
    XO
    Heidi – Heart and Home

  40. a Vintage Cottage says

    This has to be one of the most fascinating posts I have ever read! And many of the comments are to. I am going to ask everyone I know if they experience this at all. My head groups the months of the year into a funny pattern, but not into color. Weeks are in a pattern in my head too.
    January to June are straight across the top of a page in my head while July and August r on the right side and under June, then Sept starts at the bottom and left followed by the remaining months. I always see this grouping of months. Weeks are always in a oval shape.

  41. Julia @ Hooked on Houses says

    I heard that discussion on the Skirted Roundtable, so I'm glad to learn more about it now. I don't have it, but I find it fascinating! I wonder if those people are more sensitive or creative in some ways than the rest of us as a result?

  42. Kat from California says

    My daughter is part of the Sketch Book Project 2011. She chose the theme Nightime Stories. 🙂

  43. Mrs.Sigler says

    What an interesting post! My husband and I went on a road trip last year and he explained to me that certain cities have always had a color for him. He can visualize himself mapping out a trip according to the colors he goes thru….wonder if this is a form of synthesia? I myself picture months and weekdays in a certain spatial form but I've never associated them with colors. I'd love to do more research on this!

  44. NO NO NO I HAVE SYNESTHESIA AND YOUR COLORS AND THE MONTHS ON THE CIRCLE ARE ALL WRONG! JANUARY GOES AT THE TOP RIGHT! AND AUGUST GOES ON THE BOTTOM LEFT!

  45. i have synesthesia. It was a while ago that I realized people don't get it when i say 'that music sounded blue" or 'that person is orange' but, it's not as complicated- at least for me- as a lot of people seem to think. It's not like I really believe that the letter A is red. I know that if there is a black A its black. Its not like we're colorblind or anything. It's almost like an instant association. It's useful in memorization and memory. It's not really confusing although, as a few comments have mentioned it can be weird when someone tries to duplicate it (like with the colored month wheel) and that's not how we see it. It seems weird to us that it would be labeled that way because we always see it- or associate it- with the way we sense it. Anyway i hope that clears some things up a bit. Good post

  46. Susan (Between Naps on the Porch) says

    Anonymous…thanks! I'm just so fascinated by things that have to do with how the brain works. So appreciate you sharing that.

  47. Cody Bussian says

    I have troubles with learning anything if I have to read it. This is because as I read every word must have an image to go with it. Even when I read the word “the” it has an image. I don’t remember what image it is but there is an image in my “mind’s eye.” This has held true to every single word I have encountered to date. I am just curious to know if synesthesia could be a label applied to me. Please email back with something.

    • Cody, I’m not a doctor so I really can’t answer that. I’m sure a doctor who specializes in this field would be able to find the answer for you. Check with your primary care doctor and ask who he/she would recommend you see to determine if you have have synesthesia or a similar situation. Wish you the best in finding the answer.

  48. I have sounds and smells to color and whenever I try to explain to my friends what they’re voices look like they think I’m weird. I told my science teacher about it because we had been talking about the brain and senses and he said it was amazing but not to mention it to people.

  49. pam ~ crumpeety cottage says

    Rats. The video no longer exists. This immediately brought to mind Daniel Tammet, a young English lad (well, perhaps not so young any more) who I believe has synesthesia as he sees numbers in color and also in varying sizes. He wrote a book called, Born on a Blue Day. He’s also a savant and a very sweet, gentle soul. I first saw a program about him and found him fascinating and then read his book. He was challenged to learn Icelandic in a week! And he did!!! If the subject interests you, I would recommend looking him up. And if I have any type of synesthesia, it would be related to smell and memory or smell and emotions.

    • That’s amazing! I’ll have to look him up. The folks that really amaze me and I can never get enough of hearing about are the folks I saw featured on 60 minutes who can remember everything that’s ever happened to them their whole life and can tell you exact dates and times. Did you see that show, Pam? If not, let me know and I’ll look for it for you. It’s called Hyperthymesia or highly superior autobiographical memory. If you didn’t see the 60 min show, go to their site online and search for that term…it’s amazing!

  50. pam ~ crumpety cottage says

    Yes! At least, I think it’s the one you’re referring to. Do you mean the show that included Mary Lou Henner? I was AMAZED!! I’ve heard it referred to as having an ‘Eidetic’ memory. I actually think it would be a huge burden (I was thinking about all the bad stuff) 🙁 But wow! Are they amazing! Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory has an eidetic memory, lol. 😀 It’s fascinating how our brains work. Did you know that Einstein had far more ‘folds’ in his brain than the ‘normal’ person? That was discovered recently when his brain was turned over to authorities (the Dr. who had done his autopsy had kept it … :0 … ) and heirs had turned it over. When it was studied, they discovered his brain truly, actually, was different than other peoples. Amazing! Savants (which is what Daniel Tammet is considered, if my not-so-eidetic memory serves) really fascinate me too. Especially those like him, who can do the mental math. I think I have a far more run of the mill style brain, lol. Although, I HAVE said that if it was ever studied, they’d probably find an anomaly in the part that has emotions and feelings. Mine would be gigantic, I’m afraid. Thanks for bringing that up, Susan. 😀

  51. pam ~ crumpety cottage says

    Susan, this is a mystery. I saw your comment and the link you left about highly sensitive people and had even begun to listen to the podcast. Then my computer went kablooey, the screen faded, the cpu started to tick, and I had to eventually turn it off and restart it to get it working again. But of course the podcast had closed and when I came back for the link, the whole post had disappeared. 🙁

  52. pam ~ crumety cottage says

    Thanks. 😉

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