Synesthesia Awareness Campaign

What is Synesthesia?

Synesthesia is when the stimulation of one sense triggers a response in another unrelated sense. So for example seeing sounds, or tasting words. It was discovered by Sir Francis Galton in the 19th century.

What causes Synesthesia?

This is typically caused by a "cross-wiring" of the brain so nerves that normally don't touch certain areas of the brain do. It can also be caused by lack of "inhibition" on nerve pathways which causes too much nerve feedback that stimulates other areas of the brain by accident. Synesthesia generally just effects the cerebrum because that is where the senses are, and the "cross-wiring" is within a single lobe or between different lobes, for example a cross between two different areas of the temporal lobe is what causes number/word color synesthesia. This "cross-wiring" is thought to be the result of a genetic abnormality that causes people to have too many brain cells because unneeded cells are not gotten rid of before a person is born.


There are no real symptoms because each case is unique, but it is generally agreed up that synesthesia is:

  1. Automatic: the other senses are stimulated without any thought
  2. Projected: for example physically seeing the colors while hearing words
  3. Durable: the same projection every time

Diagnosis and Treatments

Diagnosis is tricky because there are different combinations of senses that could be effected and in most cases people are have very mild symptoms of it. Diagnosis is usually done through a series of tests after the general type of synesthesia a person has is determined through a survey (which asks them what senses they have that are blending together).

Synesthesia is generally passed on by genetics and it is theorized that it is carried on the X chromosome, but could also be caused:

  • head trauma
  • tumors
  • deep-meditation
  • drug use

It is most common in

  • children
  • women
  • left-handed people (for whatever reason)

There are no known treatments for synesthesia, unless there is an underlying cause that can be treated. The side-effects of synesthesia, such as migraines and dizziness can also be treated separately. Children have been known to outgrow synesthesia. Many people are unaware that they are perceiving anything differently and never realize that they have synesthesia.

Quiz: Do you have synesthesia?

Types of Synesthesia

There are many different types of synesthesia, but here are some examples of more commonly seen ones:

Grapheme (number/word color)- colors are associated with words and numbers, this is the most common type and effects and estimated 1% of the worlds population

Chromesthesia - the association of sounds with colors and is the second most common type of synesthesia (common in musicians)

Number Form - numbers are remembered visually as a "mental map" (these people have great memories)

Lexical-Gustatory - the association of sounds and tastes (extremely rare)

Prognosis and Incidence Rate

Synesthesia is not deadly, and generally does not have any negative effects on a persons life. There are no synesthesia awareness campaigns that I could find. It is a pretty common disorder and incidence rate estimates are anywhere between 1 in 2000 people to 1 in 300 people, it is hard to judge however because many people have such a mild for they are unaware they even have it.

Interesting Statistics:

  • 24% of people with synesthesia are employed as artists of some kind versus just 2% of the general population
  • 42% of people with synesthesia have a first-generation relative who also has synesthesia

Many people have some mild form of synesthesia and it is shown in how people describe things such as a "sharp taste"

Mary J. Blige, Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Vincent Van Gogh, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Charlie XCX, and Pharrell Williams are all famous artists with some form of synesthesia

TED Talk Video


Comment Stream