November 30 2022 5:52 PM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Synesthesia When colors become sounds and words becomes taste

Synesthesia
When colors become sounds and words becomes taste
(Photos: Freepik)
Can you taste words? Have you tried to see the colors of numbers? Do you think Thursday and November have the same “vibe”? You could simply be using a cognitive action named intensity matching — or you could have a special type of perception called synesthesia.اضافة اعلان

The term “synesthesia” comes from the Greek phrase for “to perceive together”. According to a research article titled “Survival of the Synesthesia Gene: Why Do People Hear Colors and Taste Words”, synesthesia is “a perceptual experience in which stimuli presented through one modality will spontaneously evoke sensations in an unrelated modality” (translation: one of your five senses is suddenly activated when you are using another one). It occurs when the sensory regions in the brain experience enhanced communication. Synesthesia is involuntary — you cannot opt in or out of the condition. 

There is no exact means of predicting how synesthesia might affect someone, as people who have the condition experience it in various ways. Some can taste the names of their friends. Imagine if hearing “Aisha”, “Mohammad”, or “Lisa” brought fruity flavors to your tastebuds, or alternately, a sour or bitter acidic taste. (However, the type of flavor has nothing with how those with synesthesia perceive or feel about their friends. Their brains simply connect specific flavors to the names.) Some synesthetes associate colors with numbers, months, or days. For example, when planning out your week, Monday might bring a bright yellow to your vision, or Wednesday a dark green.

It is important to note that there is no official method of diagnosing synesthesia. However, a researcher named Dr Richard Cytowic developed guidelines to identify the condition, explaining that those with synesthesia typically experience the perceptions involuntarily and project sensations outside the mind.



Usually, the perception or association is permanent — the same musical note would be connected to the same color every time. In most cases, the perceptions are also generic and simple. A simple shape such as a circle or square could flash into their vision as they catch a whiff of a certain smell, but they are unlikely to see something more complex, such as a car or flower. Looking back into the past, the memories of those with synesthesia often feature the secondary synesthetic perception more clearly than the primary perception.

Numbers, colors, letters, and shapes
An interesting connection exists between synesthesia and other human characteristics. Synesthetes tend to be interested in the visual arts and literature, which can enhance their unique sensations. Often, synesthetes are also diagnosed with ADHD or autism, and evidence for the concurrence of the two conditions is becoming stronger as more and more studies are conducted on synesthesia.

Most synesthetes also happen to be left-handed, and people who are bilingual are more likely to experience the phenomenon. A 2017 survey of 11,000 college students found that children exposed to two languages from early in their childhood age were more likely to have synesthesia than those who were not.

Interestingly enough, synesthetes, especially when they are children, might not realize that the unique sensory connections they experience are out of the ordinary. According to synesthesiatest.org, “a child who experiences synesthesia symptoms will most likely not recognize the condition, but those around them will be able to suspect it if their general expressions imply out of the ordinary sensory experiences.” An adult, on the other hand, may be more likely to realize that most people do not taste words or see sounds.



According to scholarly research, there are at least 80 types of synesthesia. Chromesthesia, one well-known type, refers to seeing sounds in colors. People with grapheme-color synesthesia, on the other hand, see letters and numbers as colors. Other types include auditory-tactile synesthesia, when sound involves a touching sensation; mirror touch, which gives you the sensation of touch when you see someone, for example, shake hands with someone else; calendar synesthesia, when you associate colors with the days of the week and shapes with the months of a year; spatial sequence synesthesia, in which numbers or the alphabet are spatially arranged in your mind, and many more.

Causes and effects
Jordan News interviewed Sumayya Ramiz, a Jordanian university student of social psychology and cultural sociology who has conducted research on synesthesia with other scholars.

“The odd part about synesthesia is that it is not diagnosable, which is why you might even have difficulty finding psychologists who know about it,” she explained.

Most cases of synesthesia are genetic, Ramiz noted. “If your parents had it, you have at least a 40 percent chance of having it too.”

“If you meet a synesthete, expect their parents to have synesthesia as well,” she said.

However, genes do not account for all cases. “While genetic synesthesia is seemingly the focus of current studies, synesthesia may have different causes,” she said.

Mental disorders represent the second most common cause of synesthesia, including borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses. Overloads or deprivations to a person’s sensory system are also likely to produce synesthetic experiences, she explained.

“Of course, drugs could also be a factor for synesthetic experiences, but that is almost expected,” Ramiz added.

Layla Qais, a synesthete living in Jordan, shared her experience with chromesthesia, in which she sees the sound of people’s names through color.

“I also see songs as colors and shapes,” she said. “So usually, when there are songs that are very visual for me, I like to paint them with the colors and shapes I see.”

“It’s like an amalgamation of senses,” she said, reflecting on how her synesthesia feels. “When I was a kid, I thought everyone felt this way, but apparently not.”

Synesthesia, as a whole, is not a serious, deadly, or mortal condition, and may have no significant effect on those who have it. However, awareness is important, as it may help many synesthetes discover their unique sensory connections.

“It’s an odd, but quite interesting phenomenon,” said Ramiz. “At some points, it feels unreal.”


Read more Odd and Bizarre
Jordan News