Synesthesia

The phenomenon of synesthesia likely stems from normal cognitive development in utero and early childhood. Large numbers of neural connections are formed as the brain grows both before and after birth. As the brain differentiates, many of these connections are pruned away. There is speculation that synesthesia may arise from an incomplete shedding of these connections. (Mahony, Melissa. “Finding the Connection,” Scientific American Mind, October/November 2007.)

Synesthesia is the condition in which the senses are mixed (e.g., a sound or a number has a colour, the sense of touch evokes emotions). There is also a time-space synesthesia. According to studies by David Brang of UC San Diego, Department of psychology, these individuals tend to perceive months of the year in circular shapes, usually just as an image inside their mind's eye. (Hooper. Rowan. New Scientist Life. 2010.)

Synesthesia is a condition where there is cross-triggering of the senses. One may trigger another (e.g., hearing sounds when seeing colors). (Bricklin, Mark, et al. Positive Living and Health. p 375. PA: Rodale Press, 1990.)

Synesthesia is a label for the phenomenon in the human brain whereby colors and numbers tend to be experienced as separate categories and are processed in discrete neural networks. The brains of synesthesiacs, however, tend to process these ordinarily separate categories in the same brain area. (Max Brockman, Editor. What’s Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science. p 90-102. NY: Vintage Books, 2009.)

Synesthesia is a phenomenon whereby immersing oneself in one of the senses tends to stimulate associations with the other senses. For example, low sounds tend to elicit visual images of dark colors; high sounds tend to lead one to images of light, bright colors. (Howard, Pierce J., PhD. The Owner’s Manual for the Brain. p 625. GA: Bard Press, 1994, 2000.)

Synesthesia is a neurologic phenomenon involving the conscious processing of multisensory stimuli that affects 10 in every million people. Emotions have been implicated as being involved with synesthesia. (Benson, Herbert, MD, with Marge Stark. Timeless Healing. p 8-84. NY: Scribner, 1996.)

Synesthesia appears to have roots in DNA. Synesthesia is a fascinating phenomenon whereby, in some individuals, cross-wiring occurs between the senses. It can take many forms and seems to run in families, although it also appears to be affected by environmental factors. Studies of this phenomenon at the University of Oxford in England have uncovered regions of human DNA that wires some people to “see" sounds or “hear” colors in ways that do not occur in the brains of non-synaesthetes. (Source.)

Studies of Synaesthesia at the University of Oxford in England have uncovered regions of our DNA that wire some people to "see" sounds. This cross-wiring between the senses - seems to run in families, although it also appears to be affected by environmental factors. (Robson, David. Genetic Roots of Synaesthesia unearthed. New Scientist, 2009.)

A study at University College London: mirror-touch synesthetes showed higher capacities for emotional empathy than others did. They may experience stronger gut reactions when they observe someone in distress. Synesthestes, however, scored similarly to non-synesthetes when attempting to imagine rationally how other people feel. This suggests that more than one path through the brain ends in empathy. (Mahony, Melissa. “Finding the Connection,” Scientific American Mind, October/November 2007.)

Julian Asher of Imperial College London and colleagues from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford have done studies to investigate genetic components of synesthesia, a condition that seems to run in families. Researchers took genetic samples from 196 individuals of 43 families. They found 121 individuals who exhibited the synesthetic trait of seeing a color in response to a sound. "When I hear a violin, I see something like a rich red wine," says Asher, who is a synesthete himself. "A cello is more like honey." The team performed a genetic analysis that tracked common "markers,” specific sets of base pairs that are repeated throughout the genome and which vary from person to person. They identified a region on chromosome 2, which has been associated with autism, as exhibiting the strongest link. Of interest, Daniel Tammet, an autistic savant, has a combination of the two conditions (autism and synaesthesia), as do some other autistic savants. (Source.)

Synesthesia is a condition in which the stimulation of one sense prompts a reaction in another sense. Luria, a neuropsychologist, diagnosed an especially strong form of synaesthesia (five-fold synesthesia) in a Russian mnemonist named Solomon Veniaminovich Shereshevsky. Reportedly, the stimulation of one sense resulted in a reaction in every other sense. For example, if Solomon heard a musical tone played he would immediately see a color, touch would trigger a taste sensation, and so on. (Luria, Aleksandr Romanovich. 1987. The mind of a mnemonist: a little book about a vast memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 31. ISBN 0-674-57622-5)

Estimates are that about 4% of the population experiences some form of synesthesia. (Mahony, Melissa. “Finding the Connection,” Scientific American Mind, October/November 2007.)

Neuroscientists have identified at least 54 types of synesthesia (e.g., unusual multisensory perceptions). It tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic origin. It is caused by increased cross-talk between various brain regions as well as extra connective pathways linking them together.

  • Auditory: people hear sounds when they see things move or flash or experience taste when they hear music
  • Time-space: people see things when they think about time, may perceive months of the year in circular shapes
  • Mirror-touch: people experience sensations of touch when they see others being touched
  • Visual: people perceive numbers or letters as having specific colors

(Macknik, Stephen L. PhD and Susana Martinez-Conde PhD. Sleights of Mind. p 100-108. NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2010.)

A linguistic psychologist (Julia Simner) at the University of Edinburgh is studying how conceptual thinking (not simply physical stimuli) may evoke colors and flavors in synesthetes. The meanings of wordscan produce the same flavors as their sound or written shape. (Mahony, Melissa. “Finding the Connection,” Scientific American Mind, October/November 2007.)

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