Did You Know Some People Can Hear Colors?

by Natalie Murray ‘18

Some people associate every letter or number with a certain color, every pattern or sequence with a particular personality, or every name with a different taste. These people are called synesthetes, as they have variations of an interesting condition called synesthesia.

Synesthesia is denied as “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.” It is a rare condition that affects only about one in 2,000 people, and is thought to be caused by neurons from one sensory system that “cross over” to another sensory system. It is unknown why this occurs or how exactly it happens, but it causes the senses to be more intertwined, resulting in involuntary connections between senso- ry stimulation.

There are many types of synesthesia, though the nine most common are: Grapheme-Col- or Synesthesia, Chromesthe- sia, Spatial Sequence, Number Form, Auditory-Tactile, Ordinal Linguistic Personication, Misophonia, Mirror-Touch, and Lexical-Gustatory.

Grapheme-Color Synes- thesia, which is the most com- mon type, occurs when a synes-

thete associates every number or letter with a particular color. For example, 3 might be yellow, or “J” could be green.

A synesthete who has Chromesthesia, like sophomore Shay Johnson, will see a color for every noise. Voices, instru- ments, songs, etc.–they all have a particular color. According to Johnson, the bells here at Sherwood are a uorescent yel- low-green (like a highlighter), and opera music is often a shade of purple.

Spatial-Sequence Synesthe- sia is characterized by sequenc- es, like years, months, and days of the week, each having a spot in the space around the synes- thete. This could be like having a virtual calendar surrounding you constantly, with the months listed from left to right, the days of the week each scattered throughout space, etc.

The above examples are only three of many different types of synesthesia. Due to the diverse range of associations that a synesthete could have (for example, one could asso- ciate certain temperatures with sounds, or avors with colors, or odors with personalities, or an in nite number of other com- binations), it is dif cult even for experts to gure out exactly how many categories of synesthesia there are.