Synesthesia adds vibrant color to daily interactions

Tasting a smell, hearing a texture or seeing spoken words in color are, to most, uncommon experiences which can be difficult to understand since they are experienced by only a small percentage of the world’s population. This condition is called synesthesia, literally meaning “union of senses,” and the people who experience this phenomenon are called synesthetes.

In “Some People Really Can Taste the Rainbow”, author Audrey Carlsen writes that synesthesia is a “neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense (e.g., taste) produces experiences in a totally different sense (e.g., sight)”.
In a video by the Research Channel on YouTube titled “Red Mondays and Gemstone Jalapenos: The Synesthetic World”, non-synesthetes often experience synesthesia-like symptoms. For example, when someone is sleeping and suddenly hears a loud noise and wakes up, they may see a bright flash of light which coincides with the sound.

This average experience bears some similarity to one of the most common types of synesthesia which is colored hearing, where the synesthete detects colors in sounds, music, and voices. According to researchers at the American Psychological Association, “most synesthetes report that they see such sounds internally, in the ‘mind’s eye’”, meaning that their actual view isn’t impaired and it occurs subconsciously. An example used in the Research Channel’s video was that a non-synesthete can picture something in front of them, such as a pumpkin – they can see it in their minds eye, but they know it isn’t there in front of them.

Junior Isabelle Saul-Hughes has colored hearing. “Physical feelings and emotional feelings have texture and density, different people’s voices have shades of color, personalities have color, sounds have color – a song will have bursts and swirls, and if it’s got vocals, the words being sung have the same kind of coloring as mentioned,” she said. Along with sounds and emotions, Saul-Hughes states that smells also have colors as well.

A young synesthete might not be conscious of his or her subconscious, atypical perceptions caused by synesthesia until diagnosed; Saul-Hughes had just recently realized she had synesthesia but she states that it doesn’t hinder her daily lifestyle.

Synesthetes have been living with this condition for their whole lives so if it was taken away from them, that loss would greatly affect them. “I would be much less creative without it… it has drastically increased my appreciation for beauty, and I’m deeply grateful for it.” Saul-Hughes said.