Synesthesia 

A few years ago, I was talking with my husband about education (since we are both teachers), and we were discussing why he loved English and I loved mathematics.  During the course of the conversation I made the statement that I see numbers in color.  Tony looked at me kind of oddly and asked what I meant by that.  I continued to describe how each letter of the alphabet and each numerical digit had its own color.  It's always been that way, and always will be.  I have no control over the colors--five is always orange, k is always a pale grayish-blue color.  He thought my perceptions were fascinating, to say the least.

It wasn't but a few months later that Tony urged me to read this article in the December 1999 Issue of  Discover Magazine, "Do You See What They See?" .  It describes people with a unique condition who can see sounds, smell colors, and taste shapes. The article states that these bizarre perceptions are due to "an unusual intermingling of the senses known as synesthesia, a condition that can take a multitude of forms."   In fact, a  researcher named  Sean Day  has documented 19 different types of synesthesia from 175 case histories.  The most common form (found in  69% of the cases) involves numbers and letters evoking colors, while some of the singular cases involve taste evoking touch or sound evoking odor. 

Since discovering that I have this unusual ability, I have visited many online reference sites and collected some interesting data about it.  I have created these pages here to explore my own synesthetic perceptions and compile some of the more intriguing facts I have encountered.  Below, you can sample the colors in which I see numbers and letters, as well as read more detail about my own experiences with synesthesia.

 

 My Numerical-Lexical Colors 

   Move your mouse under the digits to see how I perceive them. 

  Hold your mouse under the sentence as you read it to see how it appears to me. 


Would you like more detail about my synesthetic colors and experiences?  Click here.


 General Facts & Statistics 

  • Females and non-right-handers predominate synesthetes.  
    Studies in the U.S. have shown a female-to-male ratio of 3:1 (or 75%) while studies in the U.K. have shown a ratio of  8:1 (or 89%).   The majority of left-handed synesthetes is in correlation to the condition being a left-hemisphere function of the brain.

  • The trait is familial.  (Experience)
    Either sex parent can pass the trait to either sex child.   Familial genetic relationships range from one family which has synesthetes in each of four generations, to another family having four synesthetes out of five siblings in the same generation.

  • Memory is superior.   (Experience)
    Synesthetes perform in the superior range of the Wechsler Memory Scale.  Most synesthetes cite their parallel sensations as being the cause of their excellent memories. It is a natural memory aid.   Spatial location of objects is also extraordinarily remembered, which is perhaps related to a tendency to prefer order, balance, and symmetry. 

  • Math and spatial navigation suffer.   (Experience)
    Again, this is in correlation to the dominance of the left-hemisphere.  The majority of synesthetes may have subtle mathematical deficiencies, such as lexical-to-digit transcoding or right-left confusion
    (
    something that I have, even though I am a math teacher).

  • Synesthesia is "abnormal" only in being statistically rare.  
    It is estimated that about 1:2000 people have it.

  • A minority are prone to "unusual experiences".   (Experience)
    In one study, approximately 17% of the synesthetes said they experienced deja vu, clairvoyance, precognitive dreams, or  a sense of portentousness.

  • Synesthetic relationships are usually unidirectional.  
    This means that for a particular synesthete  sound may induce touch, but touch does not induce any audio perception.  It is a one-way street.

  • Synesthesia is emotional.  
    The experience elicits a sense of certitude.  Synesthetes are convinced that what they perceive is real and valid.


 Other Links on Synesthesia 


The facts and statistics above were gathered from the following sites.  
Please explore them if you would like further information about synesthesia.

Dr. Hugo: Synesthesia

Synesthesia: Phenomenology and Neuropsychology, by Richard E. Cytowic

Ever Taste a Shape, or Smell a Color? by Ann Kellan, CNN Correspondent

Everyday Fantasia: The World of Synesthesia, by Siri Carpenter

The American Synesthesia Association Website (currently under construction)

 

 

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