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Page history last edited by Sam Yates 11 years, 5 months ago




     The word "synesthesia" comes from two greek words: syn, meaning "together"  and aisthesis, meaning "perception." This is precisely what synesthesia is. Synesthesia is a condition where one human sense, for example hearing, is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more of the other senses, such as sight. Yet another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, and numbers with a sensory perception such as color, taste, or flavor. Synesthesia can involve any of the senses. The Grapheme-Color synesthesia is the most common form, however. This is where someone will see a certain color for a certain number or letter of the alphabet. As an example, a synesthete may see the word "apple" as the color green, or the number "8" as the color orange. There are also people who hear in response to smell, who smell in response to touch, or who feel something in response to sight. Nearly any combination of senses is possible. Some synesthetes will even have two or three senses interact at one time. A final aspect of synesthesia is that it is specific for each person. For example, one person will see an "R" as the color orange, while the other will see it as the color blue. There is almost never agreement from synesthetes about their perceptions. 



     It is very hard to diagnose synesthetes. In fact, it is estimated that there are nearly as many unknown people with synesthesia as their are confirmed cases. This definitely is a product of the difficulty in diagnosing it.  A leading researcher in synesthesia is Dr. Richard Cytowic, and he outlined 5 Characteristics of Synesthesia:

1. Involuntary: synesthetes do not think about their perceptions, they just naturally and unconsciously happen.

2. Projected: a synesthete does not simply perceive a color or shape in their head in response to a sound, for example. They actually see the color or object just like any other object. It is "projected" into their world. 

3. Durable and generic: when a synesthete sees a shape in response to a smell, for example, that shape will be generic, like a line or a square. This projected object will not be a complex schema like a large room of people. Also, the object that the synesthete projects will be durable, meaning that every time that smell is presented, the same object will be projected. 

4. Memorable: many times the secondary synesthetic perception is remembered better than the primary synesthetic experience. For example, if a person perceives the name "Sam" as the color red, then the synesthete will remember that a man's name is the color red, rather than remembering the actual name. 

5. Emotional: the arousal that the synesthete experiences can cause strong emotions such as pleasure, pain, tingling, ect... 


One of the simplest tests for synesthesia is the Square Test. You get the subject to look at the square and you ask them to see if there is any pattern to the numbers. They purposefully draw the numbers so that it is very difficult to distinguish whether they are 2's or 5's. If they have synesthesia, however, they have a different color for the 5 and for the 2 thus they can recognize the difference immediately. 

                                                                              Synesthesia Test



The biological basis of synesthesia revolves around the idea that there is a "cross-wiring" in the brain. In other words, a synesthetes sensory neurons in one sensation, for example smell, crosses over with all of the other pathways for the other sensations as well. Researchers are still looking for an answer of why this happens. Because nearly all synesthetes report having their condition for as long as they can remember, it is known that this neural crossover happens at birth. Specific brain regions involved in synesthesia are also relatively vague. Dr. Richard Cytowic's research has shown, however, that the limbic system is a main player. This is particularly interesting because the limbic system is the main player in emotions. Another aspect of research shows that the Cerebral Cortex is a large player as well. The research showed that when synesthetes hear words, the expected area of their brain to recognize that word is not only stimulated, but parts of their sensory system that works with color is also stimulated.  A final interesting note on the biological basis of synesthesia is that it has a highly genetic basis. Nearly 50% of the diagnosed synesthesia cases report that they have a direct relative with the condition as well. Further mystery is that the type of synesthesia varies from generation to generation. Researchers are still looking for answers here as well. 

                                                           Cartoon: Synesthesia (medium) by filipesimoes7 tagged music,synesthesia,flute


     A very interesting question that has always followed synesthesia is, "Is it a blessing or a curse?" Obviously, there are many negative effects of having so much stimuli coming in at one time causing an overload of information. Also, many synesthetes see it as very depressing that they cannot see the world as the majority of the population. However, there are quite a few positive aspects to synesthesia. For one, synesthetes are usually greatly skilled at the arts, because their condition greatly increases their creativity. Because they have the "cross-wirring" synesthetes are able to make many connections that normal people cannot make. Research has also shown that those with synesthesia have much better memories. They use their condition to help them remember better. Many synesthetes are able to match a color with a particular thing that they desire to memorize, and thus, they remember it better. They simply memorize the color, rather than a large list of things to be memorized.




1. A very good website for basic knowledge about synesthesia. If you are new to this condition, check here first!



2. A short work done by the Discovery channel about a female musician with a unique form of synesthesia. 



3. A video of Dr. Cytowic and a colleague of his discussing synesthesia and how it manifests itself. 



4. Take this test to see if you are a synesthete! 



5. This is the website of Dr. Richard Cytowic, the leading researcher in synesthesia. It provides links to tests, his books, and all of his research on the subject. 



6. A blog about synesthesia that posts on many different topics. New innovative research, interviews with synesthesia patients, and a look at synesthesia in pop culture are just a few of the topics broached on this witty and informative blog! 



7. A website that provides good, basic information about the condition, but also gives very detailed personal accounts from synesthesia patients. 



8. A highly intensive resource which provides a full scope look at synesthesia. Note: this is extremely dense material. If you are looking for a quick casual read-up on synesthesia, try one of the other resources. 



9. This article outlines the benefits of having synesthesia. 



10. Article on the how synesthesia is a benefit to creative thinking. 




Created by: Sam Yates

*Disclaimer: All information, images, and links on this website are thought to be public information. If there is a problem with any copyright violations, email 10902325@live.mercer.edu. 



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