Synaesthesia is a peculiar neurological condition in which the senses are interlinked in unusual and mind bending ways, the genuineness of the condition has been verified by concrete clinical studies. Letters, sound and taste can have colours, days of the week can have personalities, textures can have smells, the list goes on (see below). It’s a phenomenon that’s easy to describe in simple terms but difficult to fully appreciate. It was only recently discovered that the prevalence of synaesthesia may by 88 times higher than previously assumed. Brain imaging experiments have helped shed light on the cause, with the prevailing explanation of synaesthesia being that we are all born with the neural connections interlinking the different sensory areas of our brain, however in normal development most of these connections are pruned whereas synaesthetes maintain the connections. The animation below, made by a student is the best visual depiction of the phenomenon I’ve seen to date.
The different factors that synaesthesia may affect are:
- Days of the week
- Months of the year
- Food stuffs
- Sounds, tones and music
- Personal associations – e.g. mother-smell
Simner J, Mulvenna C, Sagiv N, Tsakanikos E, Witherby SA, Fraser C, Scott K, & Ward J (2006). Synaesthesia: the prevalence of atypical cross-modal experiences. Perception, 35 (8), 1024-33 PMID: 17076063 (PDF)Follow Simon on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
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