Synesthesia

Awareness Day 7/2/24

A day to acknowledge, celebrate, and better understand one of the most under-researched neurological conditions.

Register NOW for the official Synesthesia Awareness Day 2024 Virtual Meetup on July 2!

WHEN: Tuesday July 2, 2024 @ (12:00 PM UTC / 8:00 AM EST)

WHERE: Zoom

WHO: Yourself and any other attendees that may be interested!

This event is completely FREE and synesthetes from anywhere in the world are welcome! There are 100 spots available for this year’s meetup, which will be 40 minutes and include:

    • Meet-and-greet for synesthetes to introduce themselves.
    • Art showcase featuring two synesthesia artists.

By registering, you will receive:

    • PDF invitation with details and Zoom link.
    • Synesthesia Awareness Day profile flare.
    • Three Synesthesia Awareness Day virtual backgrounds.
    • Three social media promotional badges.

What is synesthesia?

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense triggers stimulation in other unrelated senses. For instance, someone with synesthesia (known as a synesthete) may perceive musical notes as specific colors or associate a smell with a particular physical shape. The term synesthesia itself originates from the Greek roots syn (together) and aesthesis (sensation or perception), collectively meaning “to perceive together.”

What is synesthesia awareness day?

July 2nd is a day to celebrate and bring Synesthesia to the world’s attention! Some of the most prolific and notable entertainers, artists, authors and even Nobel laureate physicists throughout history have been synesthetes. Synesthesia is even a valuable gateway for us to better understand memory, perception and even human consciousness. Yet, this remarkable condition remains under-researched, misunderstood and virtually unknown to most of the population. Synesthesia is a fascinating and beautiful condition that has heavily impacted our world cultural history and deserves to be celebrated on this special day!

how to get involved & celebrate

SYNESTHESIA Quick FACTS

What causes synesthesia?

Increased communication between various sensory regions of the brain. Though synesthesia may also occur in response to brain damage, drug use or sensory deprivation

How is synesthesia diagnosed?

There currently exists no clinical diagnosis for synesthesia. However, there are many tests to help gauge ones experiences and associations. See below for a sample test

What is it like to have synesthesia?

Depending on the type, experiences range from virtually unnoticeable to genuinely overwhelming. Though, many synesthetes report not realizing they perceived the world differently than anyone else until far later into their life

How common is synesthesia?

There is currently no exact answer, but our most reliable research indicates synesthesia is prevalent in less than 4% of the population

How many types of synesthesia are there?

The brain is capable of blending virtually any two or more senses, allowing for several dozen forms of synesthesia. Though, some forms are far more common than others

Synesthesia FAQ

Is synesthesia real?

While synesthesia may seem easy to fabricate, it is indeed real. Not only have advances in modern neuroscience conclusively confirmed that synesthesia exists, but they have also proven it is biological, automatic and unlearned. Among the many reasons for such skepticisms are:

      • Early interest and studies in synesthesia lacked proper methods to scientifically validate research, giving way to sharp decline in research for many decades.
      • The sheer rarity of the trait.
      • Most studies and research being led by non-synesthetes.
Is synesthesia a mental illness, disease, or disorder?

None of the above! Synesthesia is simply a neurological trait allowing for communication between various areas of the brain that do not ordinarily exist. The vast majority of syntesthetes view their condition as a benefit and several studies have shown they tend to perform better on cognitive and intelligence tests. Synesthetes also test negative for psychosis, schizophrenia, and delusions.

How many types of synesthesia are there?

In theory, there are as many subtypes of synesthesia as there are combinations of various sensations. However, given the many similarities and crossovers, many prefer to organize the subtypes into larger categories. You could, for instance, group synesthesia subtypes into the following broader categories:

      • Language-color (words producing colors)
      • Language-taste (words producing tastes)
      • Language-touch (words producing physical touch)
      • Visualized sensations (visual perceptions of sound, pain and other non-visual sensations)
      • Sequence-space (perceiving ordinal sequences as occupying space)
      • Mirror-touch (experiencing the physical sensations of another person)
      • Tickertape (visualization of thought or spoken words)
      • Hearing-motion (perceiving sounds of silent moving objects)

You can see a far more aggregated list of synesthesia subtypes here.

Why is synesthesia so rare?

There is currently no precise answer to this because we still do not even know exactly how many synesthetes there are in the world! There may be far more synesthetes who simply do not yet realize they experience the condition. Many synesthetes, I included, do not even realize that their perceptions of the world differ from others until later into their lives. Only further awareness and research will help us understand this for sure.

Is synesthesia genetic or hereditary?

Though there is currently no conclusive proof that synesthesia is genetic or inherited, there is mounting evidence that it does run in families. Close to half of synesthetes report a first-degree relative also experiencing the condition. Research also suggests that synesthesia can skip generations, making it so that a synesthete may not have currently living relatives with the condition.

Are women more likely to have synesthesia?

Not necessarily. Research throughout past decades seemed to indicate a predominance of female synesthetes. However, more recent studies have not corroborated this idea and show no bias among gender. A number of factors, such as females being more likely to self-report synesthetic experiences, may have originally helped encourage this notion.

Does everyone have synesthesia but does not realize it?

While a formal statistic for the prevalence of synesthesia has not yet been conclusively agreed upon, leading research indicates the trait exists in only around 4% of the global population.

What are the most common types of synesthesia?

Research indicates that chromesthesia, or color induced by sounds, may be the most common form of synesthesia. However, other forms, like grapheme-color synesthesia (perceiving specific colors for alphanumeric characters or words) and experiencing days of the week and months in colors are also highly common among synesthetes. See more about the various types of synesthesia here.

Are synesthetic experiences like those caused by hallucinogens, such as LSD?

While synesthetic experiences may be extremely vibrant and vivid, they are extremely different from experiences induced by hallucinogenic drugs. Like myself, many synesthetes do not even realize their experiences of the world are any different than others until much later in life simply because they are so ingrained in my perceptions. This is hardly the same as “tripping” or hallucinating.

*I personally have zero experience with hallucinogens of any kind and am basing my opinions on secondhand accounts.

How is synesthesia tested or diagnosed?

There are essentially two primary methods for testing synesthesia. The first is through questionnaires, in which the likelihood and extent of the condition is assessed through targeted questions. This method is largely used for the sake of self-reporting.

The widely preferred method of testing is known as the synesthesia battery test. In this method, a battery of questions and visual responses are recorded and measured against a standardized scoring system, with the hopes of expediting and standardizing research on the condition. This test is free and available to the public and can be accessed here.

Is synesthesia as fun as it sounds?

Many synesthetes — I included — deeply value their trait and would not give up their experiences for anything. However, not every one of the many forms of synesthesia are pleasant experiences and some are quite traumatic. Misophonia, for instance, produced unwanted emotions, like anger or fear, in response to certain sounds. Mirror-touch synesthesia, on the other hand, can cause one to physically experience the pain of another person.

Does synesthesia make everyday life difficult?

Most synesthetic experiences occur within the “mind’s eye,” and therefore does not interfere with daily tasks or functions. For instance, in grapheme-color synesthesia, blue may be involuntarily triggered by the number 1 but is only perceived mentally versus physically on the page. In this sense, the synesthetic perceptions coexist with the real-life visual elements. However, though much rarer, there are also cases in which colors, shapes, sequences, and other associations are projected into the real world.

What affect does synesthesia have on IQ?

Currently, there is no evidence that synesthesia has any effect on an individual’s intelligence and causes no discernible difference from other members of society. A significant majority of synesthetes report not being able to imagine life without the condition.

Is synesthesia linked to autism?

Some studies have shown that synesthesia is upwards of three times more likely among individuals with autism, though this has certainly not been proven conclusively. While both conditions are believed to arise from increased neurological connectivity and communication, there is currently no formal link. Not to mention, most autistic people are not known to have synesthesia, and alternatively, the majority of synesthetes are not currently known to be autistic.

Does synesthesia only occur among artistic and creative people?

Synesthesia does seem to be more prevalent among individuals with artistic tendencies. Yet, there are many cases to the contrary, such as the Nobel Laureate physicist, Richard Feynman, who was a synesthete.

Does synesthesia make people more creative or artistic?

While the vibrant experiences of synesthesia naturally provide greater pathways for artistic influence and inspiration, it is not known to be the underlying cause of such talents.

Are the experiences of synesthesia the same for all synesthetes (for instance, colors)?

Typically, synesthetes will disagree — and often enjoy passionately arguing — over the colors associated with characters. A significant portion of synesthesia research and testing has been developed to collecting the various perceived colors of synesthetes. However, some commonalities can be seen among large samples of experiences. For instance, it is common for the letter A to be perceived as red, B as blue, and C as yellow. Below is an image of the most commonly reported color associations for the English alphabet.

synesthesia awareness day common grapheme colors

(Image Multisense Synaesthesia Research Lab)

Can a synesthete have more than one type of synesthesia?

Absolutely! It is quite common for synesthetes to experience multiple forms of synesthesia. This has been convincing evidence for a single underlying mechanism for synesthesia, versus each type being its own unique condition.

Can synesthesia be learned or acquired?

Yes and no. There have been cases of synesthetic experiences stemming from traumatic brain injuries and other traumatic events, though they are quite rare. Psychedelic drugs and hallucinogens, like LSD and psilocybin, are also known to induce synesthesia-like experiences. However, these experiences subside as the drug leaves the individual’s system. It is still widely believed that “true” synesthesia is innate and occurs from birth.

Can synesthesia be lost?

For the vast majority, the answer is no, synesthesia is innate and lifelong. Though more recent studies have indicated synesthetic experiences (in particular, color associations) may weaken with age. Other studies have shown experiences weakening dramatically or disappearing prior to adolescence.

Some studies have even suggested that everyone is born with the ability to intertwine senses but loses — or “grows out of” — the ability in the first few years of life. However, this is difficult to study since we cannot reliably ask infants about their synesthetic experiences. There have been other rare cases in which traumatic changes or injuries in the brain have resulted in the loss of synesthetic abilities.

types of synesthesia

The brain is capable of blending virtually any two or more senses, giving rise to dozens of forms of synesthesia. Below are a few of the more common forms of synesthesia, by no means all of them. See a more complete list here

grapheme–color

individual letters of the alphabet and numbers (collectively referred to as “graphemes”) are perceived with a shade or color

chromesthesia

the association of sounds with colors, like seeing colors representing various notes played on a piano

spatial sequence

perceiving ordinal sequences as points or objects in space, such as one seeing calendar months or dates projected around them

number form

a mental map of numbers involuntarily triggered when thinking about or counting numbers, which varies among all individuals

auditory–tactile

sensations in the body induced by sounds, such as experiencing a physical touch in response to a specific word or sound

ordinal-linguistic

ordered sequences, such as months, days of the week or letters are associated with a personality or gender

misophonia

the triggering of negative experiences, such as hate, anger or fear by specific sounds

mirror-touch

experiencing the same sensation as another person, such as observing one being tapped on the shoulder and involuntarily feeling a tap on their own shoulder

lexical–gustatory

the triggering of specific tastes in response to sound, such as the word “baseball” tasting like grapes

kinesthetic

a rare blending of multiple forms of synesthesia that are assigned to more complex sequences or relationships

celebrities with synesthesia

The following are notable public figures and celebrities (present and past) who experience one or more forms of synesthesia.

  • Vladimir Nabokov
  • Beyoncé
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Billie Eilish
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Duke Ellington
  • Billy Joel
  • Franz Liszt

  • Lorde

  • Olivia Rodrigo

  • Tori Amos

  • Leonard Bernstein

  • Kanye West

  • Hans Zimmer

  • Charli XCX

  • Eddie Van Halen

  • Brendon Urie

  • Pharrell Williams

  • Geoffrey Rush

  • Patrick Stump

  • Vincent Van Gogh

  • Richard Feynman

  • David Hockney

  • Stevie Wonder

  • Frank Lloyd Wright

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Wassily Kandinsky

  • Victor Hugo

  • Jimi Hendrix

  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Updates

Contact

3 + 11 =

Proudly made by synesthetes, for synesthetes.

©2023 Synesthesia Awareness Day. All Rights Reserved.