Ever thought about a condition that would let you hear the colors you wear, feel the sound you play on your phone, smell the words you write, or taste shapes. Well, this idea is not being presented with the assumption that you can experience these situations after consuming psychedelics. However, this blending of sensory perceptions is an actual medical condition termed Synesthesia.
In this neurological condition, one sensory or cognitive function(vision) leads to inducing automatic involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive function (hearing). In simple words, the activation of one sense automatically activates another unrelated sense at the same time. For example, an individual with Synesthesia might simultaneously hear music and reciprocate the sound as swirls or patterns of color.
What Are The Types Of Synesthesia?
A report states that there are at least 73 different types of synesthesia.
An article in Psychology Today enlists the common ways Synesthesia can exist in humans.
- Auditory-tactile synesthesia occurs when a sound induces a specific bodily sensation (such as tingling on the back of one’s neck).
- Chromesthesia occurs when certain sounds (like a car honking) can make an individual see colors.
- Grapheme-color synesthesia occurs when letters and numbers are associated with specific colors.
- Lexical-gustatory synesthesia occurs when hearing certain words trigger distinct tastes.
- Mirror-touch synesthesia has been described as a kind of supercharged empathy: A person feels as though they’re being touched if they witness it happening to someone else. It can be benign—such as an observed advantage in recognizing facial expressions—or burdensome, as in the case of a neurologist who felt intense pressure in his chest when he saw a patient receiving CPR.
- Number form occurs when a mental map of numbers involuntarily appears whenever someone thinks of numbers.
- Ordinal linguistic personification is a kind of synesthesia where ordered sequences (e.g., the days of the week) are associated with personalities or genders.
- Spatial sequence synesthesia involves seeing numbers or numerical sequences as points in space (e.g., close or far away).
How Does This Condition Occur?
A synesthete is an individual who experiences a lifelong history of this condition where the sensory bondings formed by their brain remain constant throughout their life. People who experience synesthesia either genetically inherit it, or develop it later in their course of life.
It is a known fact that each of your five senses activates a different area in your brain. An individual without Synesthesia on seeing a colored wall will only recognize the color. But with Synesthesia an individual can also feel like he/she can taste the color of the wall.
Experts believe that people with this condition have a high level of interconnectedness between the parts of the brain that are associated with a sensory stimulus. Thus, although the real cause is still unknown, some researchers say that it could be a consequence of crossed wiring in the brain.
According to a University of Washington source, “neurons and synapses that are "supposed" to be contained within one sensory system cross to another sensory system. It is unclear why this might happen but some researchers believe that these crossed connections are present in everyone at birth, and only later are the connections refined. In some studies, infants respond to sensory stimuli in a way that researchers think may involve synesthetic perceptions. It is hypothesized by these researchers that many children have crossed connections and later lose them. Adult synesthetes may have simply retained these crossed connections.”
Since this condition occurs more commonly in women (XX sex chromosome pair) than in men (XY sex chromosome pair), although studies differ on how wide this gap is, researchers also believe that synesthesia could be linked to the X-chromosome.
The Swaddle reported, “Some scientists also believe that everyone is born synesthetic, with their sensory wires entangled, but as they grow up, the senses become more segregated. Yet this doesn’t explain why some people retain their synesthesia well into adulthood, and throughout their lives.”
The Outlook Of Synesthesia
It is extremely important to understand that Synesthesia is not an illness or mental disorder. It is nothing but a unique condition where an individual experiences a world with multiple stimuli to a single situation. Thus, there is essentially no treatment to cure this. It is estimated that the number of people with synesthesia could be anywhere close to 1 in 200 to 1 in 100,000. Further, it is a common occurrence that Synesthesics might be unaware of this phenomenon and they refrain from opening about it as they fear they would be judged, mocked, or dismissed for having this kind of a different experience.
Hence, anyone who undergoes synesthesia can live a completely normal life and enjoy the best of different worlds, aka their senses. Several famous personalities namely Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Mary J. Blige, Tori Amos, Duke Ellington, Lorde, Vladimir Nabokov amongst the many others in the world are Synesthesics. Art historians believed that painters Vincent van Gogh and Joan Mitchell also had Synesthesia.
Scientific American said, “For too long, synesthetes were dismissed as having overactive imaginations, confusing memories for perceptions or taking metaphorical speech far too literally. Recent research, however, has documented the reality of synesthesia and is beginning to make headway into understanding what might cause such unusual perceptions.”