What Is Synesthesia?

Synesthesia is a neurologically based condition in which a person experiences "crossed" responses to stimuli. Synesthesia occurs when stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway (e.g., hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (e.g., vision). About 5 percent of the population has synesthesia, and over 60 types have been reported. The most common form of synesthesia is grapheme-color synesthesia, in which people perceive individual letters of the alphabet and numbers to be "shaded" or "tinged" with a color. Other synesthetes commingle sounds with scents, sounds with shapes, or shapes with flavors. 

Recent Posts on Synesthesia

Do Sounds Have Shapes?

By David Ludden Ph.D. on May 06, 2015 in Talking Apes
Synesthesia, or a mixing of the senses, may tell us something about the origin of speech.

Geography of Aging and the Illusion of Self

By Mario D Garrett PhD on May 04, 2015 in iAge
There is no "me". My body is a fusion of the outside world and an internal reality. The distinction between me and them is purely a creation of my mind. The separation comes as an afterthought. My mind creates this dualism, but in reality my body is fused with the geography and behavior of others around. The sense of self is how the body placates me.

Diplomatic Synesthesia

By Maureen Seaberg on April 09, 2015 in Sensorium
Diplomat Mo Sacirbey reports the geometric synesthesia he experiences during negotiations...

Two Synesthetes Walk Into a Bar...

By Maureen Seaberg on March 25, 2015 in Sensorium
What's So Funny About Synesthesia? Plenty!

First Synesthete on Mars?

By Maureen Seaberg on February 24, 2015 in Sensorium
Synesthete Andrew Tunks believes our mind's inner space is crucial to success in outer space.

Bricks for Nik

By Maureen Seaberg on October 23, 2014 in Sensorium
Alternating currents: history is finally catching up on brilliant synesthete inventor Nikola Tesla.

"Synesthesia is in the mind, not the brain" - Geoffrey Rush

By Maureen Seaberg on September 01, 2014 in Sensorium
Geoffrey Rush believes synesthesia lives in the realm of the senses and the mind, not the brain alone.

LUSH Spa's Blissful Synaesthesia Massage

By Maureen Seaberg on August 22, 2014 in Sensorium
LUSH's Synaesthesia Massage was created by actual synaesthetes...

Geoffrey Rush On His Synesthesia

By Maureen Seaberg on August 05, 2014 in Sensorium
Geoffrey Rush of Australia has several forms of synesthesia...

Sensory Sensitivity and Synesthesia

By Michael Jawer on July 23, 2014 in Feeling Too Much
Hypersensitivity is the first of many intriguing correspondences between synesthesia, autism, savantism, and prodigiousness.

Bouncing Back, Sort Of

Three new memoirs explore different kinds of pain, from the physical to the emotional to what we might call the spiritual or existential. Each author has adapted, but there’s always a high price to pay.

The Letters on the Blocks in Kindergarten Weren’t “Right”

After finding out that his condition was genetic my grandfather asked all of his grandkids, “What color is 3?” Turned out he and I shared colored letters.

Brilliant Brain By Accident

“I believe I am living proof that these powers lie dormant in all of us,” Jason Padgett writes in Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Released today.

Synesthesia Isn't a Kind of Useless, New Age Oddity

Another long-standing misconception is that most synaesthetes are on the whole, attention-seeking arty people who spend most of their time with their heads in the clouds.

What Do Words Taste Like?

The German word “Pilz” (mushroom) has the taste and texture of marzipan, even though I fully realize that it means mushroom in English. The word “mushroom” tastes like a mushroom.

Colored Pain

“Colored pain” is still considered a rare form of synesthesia. These synesthetes perceive colors as they experience pain.

Struck by Genius

By Maureen Seaberg on April 06, 2014 in Sensorium
Acquired savant and synesthete Jason Padgett was struck by genius.

The Girl Who Heard Colors

By Maureen Seaberg on March 12, 2014 in Sensorium
The Girl Who Heard Colors has an important message for young children.

HBO's New Hit Series "True Detective" Features Synesthete

By Maureen Seaberg on January 29, 2014 in Sensorium
HBO "True Detective" creator Nic Pizzolatto is a synesthete who has now created a hit show featuring a synesthete character…

Synesthesia Finally Has Resume Value

By Maureen Seaberg on January 21, 2014 in Sensorium
Update those resumes and business cards, synesthetes!

Death Is a Synesthete (In The Book Thief by Mark Zusak)

Mark Zusak's novel, The Book Thief, is narrated by Death, a synesthete who tastes colors. Synesthesia is a benign neurological condition where the physical senses overlap. Sensory systems are well-studied in neuroscience, and investigating how synesthesia arises could lead to therapies for other brain diseases that are also characterized by atypical connection patterns.

Hyper- or Hypoconnectivity in Autism?

A recent finding that links autism and synesthesia provides some evidence that autism may be associated with increased brain connectivity.

Ghost in the Machine

By Maureen Seaberg on November 06, 2013 in Sensorium
Kaylee literally feels the mechanisms of machines through synesthesia...

DNA Results: Positive for Tetrachromacy

By Maureen Seaberg on October 14, 2013 in Sensorium
Could I be the first confirmed synesthete tetrachromat?

Michel Gagne Animates Synesthesia for Major Films

By Maureen Seaberg on September 24, 2013 in Sensorium
Award-winning animator and synesthete Michel Gagne has brought synesthesia to the big screen...

The Immune Hypothesis for Synesthesia

A new hypothesis published in Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests that there might be a connection between atypical functioning of the immune system and synesthesia, a condition in which sensory or cognitive channels that normally are separate blend and lead to unusual, mixed sensory experiences or thoughts.

Thinking in Numbers

By Maureen Seaberg on September 11, 2013 in Sensorium
Daniel Tammet is as much a man of letters as numbers...

Vincent Van Gogh Was Likely a Synesthete

By Maureen Seaberg on August 26, 2013 in Sensorium
Vincent Van Gogh associated artistic technique and musical instruments...

He Sees Colors When He Hears Your Voice

By Maureen Seaberg on June 25, 2013 in Sensorium
A cancer patient who acquired synesthesia from brain surgery inspires a song...

A TED-Ed Lesson on Synesthesia

Synesthesia is the genetically-inherited trait of coupling senses—such as sight and sound, or words and tastes.One in 23 people harbor the gene for this fascinating neurological trait.