Colorful Facts You Should Know About Synesthesia

What is synesthesia? How does it affect the brain? What causes it? Synesthesia is a fascinating neurological condition, but researchers still don't know much about it. People with synesthesia experience cross stimulation when one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an involuntary sensation to another. To put it simply, people with synesthesia can taste sounds or hear colors.

A person might listen to their favorite band and automatically taste popcorn, or always see a certain letter in a particular color. It's both incredibly wonderful and completely baffling. Everyone with synesthesia (known as synesthetes) experience things differently. Some will swear that the number two is blue, while others insist that the number two is obviously green. Scientists have documented many different examples of fascinating connections people with different kinds of synesthesia will make. But as interesting facts about synesthesia prove, part of its allure lies in its mystery.

  • Many Types of Synesthesia Exist, And They All Have Certain Advantages

    Think of synesthesia as one big tree with a bunch of different branches. Every type of association synesthetes make usually has a name behind it. Chromesthesia means a person associates colors with sounds - perhaps they hear a snow blower, and think of the color yellow. People with this type of synesthesia often have perfect pitch, because they can associate a certain note to a certain color. 

    Another common type of synesthesia is known as grapheme-color synesthesia. Synesthetes with this condition will see alphabet letters or numbers in certain colors. For example, if you hold up a whiteboard with a bunch of 5s and 2s randomly written on it, it might take an average person some time to distinguish the numbers from each other. Individuals with grapheme-color synesthesia would recognize the differences immediately, since the numbers would appear in two separate colors to them.

    Spatial sequence synesthesia allows a person to perceive numerical sequences as points in space. These people often have a fantastic memory and can remember things in great detail. 

    Having mirror-touch synesthesia means a person perceives the feelings of another individual just by looking. Not surprisingly, these synesthetes are typically quite empathetic.

  • Most People Have It From Birth

    Most people with synesthesia claim that they've had it all their lives. Researchers theorize that everyone begins life with synesthesia, but lose it as they grow up. Therefore, synesthetes never grew out of the condition. However, people debate this theory - it's not as common, but it is possible for a person to start developing synesthesia later in life. Both of those instances are called developmental synesthesia. 

    On the other hand, some people suddenly acquire synesthesia due to certain circumstances. Tumors, head injuries, and strokes may suddenly induce a state of synesthesia known as acquired synesthesia. Certain psychedelic drugs like LSD have also been known to induce a synesthesia-like effect for a short amount of time.

  • Many Of Your Favorite Musicians Have It

    Many Of Your Favorite Musicians Have It
    Photo: Thomas Hawk / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Your favorite songs might have been penned by artists with synesthesia. As synesthesia has become more widely publicized, many popular musicians have come forward and discussed their condition openly. Pharrell, Billie Eilish, Kanye West, Charlie XCX, Billy Joel, Mary J. Blige, and Lorde all say they have synesthesia. They have used their condition to make incredibly successful music.

  • Many Famous Painters Were Probably Synesthetes

    Many Famous Painters Were Probably Synesthetes
    Photo: BoonHui & Sandy / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    It takes a special kind of talent to paint, but some of the most famous artists of all time may have had a little advantage in their field. Claude Monet, the master of Impressionism, was said to have synesthesia. Vincent Van Gogh reportedly heard colors and painted a reflection of those sounds.

  • Sometimes Synesthesia Causes Weird Associations

    One blog dedicated to odd facts about synesthesia organized a list of some of the weirdest associations synesthetes experience. One man tastes broccoli every time he hears his girlfriend's name. He also says that the way someone spells their name changes his taste: "Lori" tastes like a pencil eraser, but "Laurie" tastes lemony. 

    Other synesthetes report getting nauseous from the sound of wind chimes, seeing the number seven as a mustached man, hearing "oh" and "ah" from a painting, and feeling a song as a square.

  • Experts Still Don't Know What Causes Synesthesia

    Experts Still Don't Know What Causes Synesthesia
    Photo: stux / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

    Scientists still don't know exactly what causes synesthesia. They do understand that people who have synesthesia have a sort of cross-wiring in their brains between areas that process different sensations. This reinforces the idea that synesthetes just never outgrow synesthesia.