Synesthesia

Everywhere we go we are surrounded by colours. Any kind of advertisement is using colours to influence the mood of people. But some people see colours among letters and numbers naturally. People who have Synesthesia.

 

Based on the greek words "syn" and "aesthesia", which means "joined senses", synesthesia is a rare, neurological condition, where one trigger involuntarily evokes a cross talk reaction not just in one area of the brain, but two or more. Depending on which one of the brain areas is affected, some people smell words, taste touches or see colours when looking at numbers.

 

Although it has been made a disorder by nazi regime in early 1930, synesthesia is not a disorder. It is a trait, like having green eyes or freckles and it is inherited by our parents. It is estimated that 1 among 23 people (appr. 4-7 % of human population) has at least one of the 63 known types of synesthesia. It is entirely unique to each person individual and always involuntarily. It often comes along with being highly sensitive. Studies also show a high prevalence of synesthesia among creatives.

 

The interest in synesthesia has been increased during the last years, also because the phenomenon of the joined senses gives a unique insight into our not yet fully discovered brain. Neurologists, psychologists, writers and artists from all over the world started a dialog and are constantly working on de-mystifiying that unique trait.

 


Learn more about the different types of synesthesia.

Famous synesthetes (selection)

1. Tori Amos, singer, pianist: music--> colour

2. Leonard Bernstein, composer, conductor: timbre --> colour

3. Hélène Grimaud, pianist: grapheme, music--> colour

4. Stephanie Morgenstern, writer: grapheme, music --> colour

5. Vladimir Nabokov, writer: grapheme --> colour

6. Geoffrey Rush, actor: multiple synesthesiae

7. Lady Gaga, singer: music--> colour

8. Pharell Williams, singer: music--> colour

9. Hans Zimmer, composer: music --> colour

 

Click here for getting a detailed overview about people with synesthesia.

 


With Cytowic/Eagleman et al. five common types of synesthesia have been elaborated so far:

  1. Spatial sequence synesthesia: The coupling of colour, perspective and spatial configuration with concepts involving sequence or ordinality e.g. number forms (weekdays, months, dates)  are seen in loops around the body
  2. Colour grapheme synesthesia: letters and numbers appear in colour 
  3. Lexical gustatory synesthesia: words and phonemes elicit taste
  4. Coloured hearing: music, sound, noise evoke colours, shapes and movement
  5. Personified graphemes: letters, numbers or punctation "carry" personalities

 For more types see here.