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Synesthesia is a fascinating neurological condition where a person's sensory stimuli get crossed, causing them to hear colors, taste sounds, and any number of other strange sense experiences. As many as five percent of people have some degree of it, many not aware that what they're experiencing is different from the general public. The most common form of synesthesia is color-graphemic, where letters or numbers seem to have colors or patterns. For color-auditory synesthetes, hearing certain sounds produces colors, textures and shapes. In theory, there are dozens of different possibilities: sound-touch, smell-color. In this episode of TestTube Plus, Trace describes how some forms of synesthesia could be like super powers.
Though scientists don't know much about the neurology behind synesthesia, researchers have identified two types: developmental and acquired. Developmental seems to be passed on through families, while acquired synesthesia can manifest in those who are on hallucinogenic drugs or in people who've had neurological conditions like epileptic seizures which may have altered their physical brain matter. Synesthesia is not a disorder, and the cause remains unknown. It's an incredible mystery of the human body. Not all auditory-visual synesthetes see the same thing, and not all grapheme-synesthetes connect the same words, letters or numbers with the same colors; even within the same family, two synesthetes will manifest these differently. As of now, scientists are scanning and learning as much as they can about the condition to learn about how our brains perceive the world and construct our individual realities.
Do you have synesthesia or know anyone who does? We'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
The Synesthesia Project (Boston University)
"At its simplest level, synesthesia means that when a certain sense or part of a sense is activated, another unrelated sense or part of a sense is activated concurrently. For example, when someone hears a sound, he or she immediately sees a color or shape in his or her 'mind's eye.'"
Prevalence of Learned Grapheme-Color Pairings in a Large Online Sample of Synesthetes (PLOS ONE)
"Learning has also been shown to play a role in other types of synesthesia such as word-taste synesthesia, and most types of synesthesia involve culturally learned sequences such as letters, numbers, dates, and pitches. However, there are reasons to be cautious about extrapolating from our result to the claim that synesthetic correspondences in general can be or are often learned from external stimuli."