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10 Disadvantages to Synesthesia

Synesthesia is generally thought of as a perceptual condition that enhances the experiences of day to day life. For the most part this is true, and many, if not all synesthetes, wouldn’t part with their synthetic experiences to begin with. That does not mean that there aren’t downsides to the condition. Synesthesia is unusual in that it manifests the individual and will oftentimes show no effect on the outside world, unlike other psychological conditions where the effects are obvious to others around the individual. This can result in discouraging and patronizing reactions to the person affected. When experiencing strong enough stimulation, synesthesia can also become troublesome and even dangerous. As the list will come to show, synesthesia is not all it is rumored to be. This article was co-written by M. Synesthi and Nic Swaner and is largely based on experience on M. Synesthi’s part (items 10-6, 4-1), as well as some experience from Nic Swaner (items 7, 2-1), and research done on account of both of the authors (item 5).

10

Support

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To a synesthete who can never recall a life without their synesthesia, descriptions of colored voices or angry numbers are all too natural. To non-synesthetes, however, this can seem extremely strange or overwhelming. Due to this, when someone first learns that they have synesthesia and are eager to share their perceptions with others they can be met with confusion and even disbelief from the people closest to them.

Synesthetes who do not have the support of their friends and family can be left feeling alienated or even a little bit crazy, assuming that their perceptions of the world are invalid. Additionally, synesthetes who were ridiculed as a child for their ‘craziness’ may feel nervous and unwilling to explain themselves, losing critical chances to enrich the world around them.

9

Ridicule

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In addition to having to explain their synesthesia to friends and family a synesthete might also experience ridicule at the hands of their peers. Children without synesthesia will often find a synesthete’s descriptions of their experiences to be strange or threatening and react through shunning or criticism. This often occurs early in a synesthete’s childhood when they comment upon their synthetic experiences in the belief that everyone shares them, and are then left startled and confused to learn that they are the only one with such experiences.


8

Personal Bias

Letters Have Colors

Just like a non-synesthete who naturally prefers one color over the rest, so does a synesthete with some of their experiences. To those with grapheme synesthesia certain letters or numbers may be “pretty” or “soothing” while others are “ugly.” To a person with OLP (Ordinal Linguistic Personification) synesthesia, this extends to the personality of the letters. ‘A’ might be friendly, for example, while ‘D’ is sullen and rude. To a synesthete, this is simply how the letters are, and they make their preferences accordingly.

While this sort of preference is often benign, it at times becomes obvious or challenging. When meeting new people, a person with sound-color synesthesia may be naturally drawn to someone with a pretty voice, while avoiding those whose voices are “sharp” or “glaring.” This isn’t a judgment on the people surrounding them, but it can limit who they interact with and make social situations or conversations uncomfortable.

7

Stereotypes

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A synesthete will eventually encounter stereotypes assigned to them when surrounded by people who are aware of the condition. They might be asked what their synesthesia is by a curious yet seemingly investigative acquaintance, with the implication being that they have one type, when many have numerous forms of synesthesia. Some stereotypes that continue to be perpetuated by the internet and the media are that synesthetes are inherently creative and artistic due to their synthetic gifts; that synesthetes are left-handed; and that they are bad at math. Richard Cytowic, a leading researcher on synesthesia has disproven the first of these myths, citing that the estimated percentage of synesthetes in the US population is proportional to the percentage of synesthetes who are professional artists. There is also no evidence that synesthetes are predominantly left-handed. The last stereotype contains some truth in it, but has been applied from one form of synesthesia to all. It is discussed below.

6

Math Abilities

Stroop Interference

One common stereotype (as mentioned in the last section) is that synesthetes are bad at math. While synesthetes range in mathematical ability just as non-synesthetes do, individuals with certain types of synesthesia may have to view the mathematical processes a little differently. For an individual with OLP synesthesia, for instance, math can be at times uncomfortable. The act of adding a ‘mean’ number to a ‘nice’ number may cause a level of anxiety, because the synesthete does not want to expose the ‘nice’ number to the meanness of the other number in the problem.

Another common situation regarding synesthesia and math is the plight of a person with grapheme synesthesia, who views each number as having its own color. This person can know, quite logically, that 2 + 3 = 5. However, to them, this could look like pink + light blue = red. If they have any experience with color theory, they realize that red is a primary color, and therefore cannot be created out of two secondary colors. In order to solve this addition problem, the synesthete must either disregard their colors temporarily, or struggle to handle the situation they find themselves in.

5

Object Perception

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In mirror-touch synesthesia, a person observing someone else being touched will feel the sensation of being touched in the same area. In the case of vision-touch synesthesia, a visual stimulus is perceived as a particular touch which can occur and be felt on different parts on the body. Both are normally not a problem for the synesthete, but upon approaching large, tall, deep or wide objects (such as a large animal or a lake), those that have the latter form of synesthesia may react badly due to how they feel the object. Most vision-touch synesthetes report a falling sensation and some have even described a reaction akin to the fight or flight response. The same responses have also been reported with minuscule objects. This may be because vision-touch synesthetes can sense or feel the scale of an object.


4

Musical Abilities

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Synesthetes, just like non-synesthetes, have different levels of musical ability. However, for people with sound-color synesthesia, their musical abilities may be counteracted by their synthetic experiences. A person with sound-color synesthesia (sometimes called colored hearing) will ‘see’ a sound as the presence of a color whenever they hear the sound. While this experience can be pleasant at times, it may make it difficult for the musician to see their music, and they may find themselves relying on their memory more then their non-synesthetic peers.

Additionally, performing in a group ensemble may be difficult at times. Some synesthetes with colored hearing may hear everyone’s voice as having a unique color. If this individual is part of a choir, they could find themselves overwhelmed by their perceptions when everyone is singing together, experiencing symptoms of sensory overload such as headaches or nausea.

3

Visual Obstruction

Synesthesia

To a synesthete with sound-color synesthesia, every sound has its own color, and often louder sounds will dominate the visual field. An individual with sound-color synesthesia will usually be unaffected by the extra colors, as their whole life has been spent in this manner. However, in situations with extreme or unexpected noise they may find themselves overwhelmed.

Fire drills are an excellent example. To non-synesthetes, the noise of the fire alarm is loud and annoying, but does not change anything about his or her visual field. To a synesthete with sound-color synesthesia, this loud, unending sound obscures part, if not all, of their vision. This can be especially difficult when trying to exit the building during the drill, as the synesthete may bump objects or trip on objects on the floor.


2

Life Changes

Focus-Magazine-Italy Synesthesia

Synesthesia doesn’t necessarily stick around for everyone; many who have it experience a gradual fade effect where their synthetic experiences become weaker in intensity over time. A melody that appeared vividly as bright yellow years ago now would be hardly experienced at all later on.

Occasionally, people who have had synesthesia throughout their childhood may find that it dramatically changes during their teenage years. The reason for this is not entirely understood, but it has been reported that several synesthetes find that their synesthesia becomes “stronger” or “vivider.” This can be confusing for the synesthete, who typically does not anticipate such change.

1

Illness

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As anyone who has experienced a high fever before knows, an elevated body temperature may cause an altered perception of reality. Synesthetes who attempt to perform daily activities while feverish may find that their synesthesia is stronger or weaker, or perhaps just looks “off.” This goes back to normal after the body temperature returns to normal. Ear infections often present additional challenges with sound-color synesthesia. A bad ear infection makes it more difficult to hear what is happening in the world, causing the affected person to feel somewhat deafened. A synesthete with sound-color synesthesia and an ear infection will not only lose their hearing temporarily, but will also have their colors altered for the duration of the infection.

As mentioned before, some synesthetes find that their synesthesia gradually weakens with time. It is very uncommon to lose your synesthesia overnight. However, a synesthete suffering from depression may find that their synesthesia temporarily leaves. The reason for this is not known, but to the synesthete, this is another traumatic life event to add to the pre-existing depression, often prolonging or enhancing the depression and extending the period without the synesthesia.

When synesthesia is reported by individuals who don’t normally experience it or inherit it genetically, this can be an indicator of brain damage, the onset or aftereffects of a stroke or seizure, and, if applicable, as a result of the brain healing after the removal of tissue, such as a brain tumor. Since synesthesia is a condition that exists within the brain, it is understandable that a traumatic brain injury such as a concussion may temporarily affect a synesthete in that way as well. A concussed synesthete may find themselves more sensitive to sounds, or have problems “blocking out” excessive colors in their reading or writing activities. As with general confusion following a concussion in a non-synesthete, these symptoms will typically lessen over time.



  • Arkon

    Heavy subject….

  • Will Trame

    This is definitely a topic I’ll have to delve into further. To be honest, I’ve never heard of it before.

    • ni99a

      You might not know it but your dead relative might have it.

      • Maggot

        Dude, wtf is with you? You think because he once mentioned the passing of a relative, that a comment like this will hurt him? Everyone, including you, has dead relatives. I know your entire schtick is based on childish trolling, but this is just weak.

        • Will Trame

          I figure some trolls will never pipe down, Maggot. Perhaps he gets his kicks by seeing who he could p*ss off on a daily basis. If that is the case, I really pity him far more than I despise his posts.

      • Will Trame

        Indeed a weak and rancid retort, my friend. I let that issue go over a week ago. Perhaps it’s time you did as well.

  • I have multiple forms of synesthesia, each one a mild case as far as I can tell. One thing that isn’t mentioned here is the pain one can experience when seeing someone else in pain or hearing a vivid description of someone else’s injury. I have read that most synesthetes who experience this feel the pain in the same area as the injured person they are looking at, but I feel it in my chest and shoulders every time.

    The other day my friend told me she cut her foot really badly and I felt a sharp paint stab at my chest and then disperse over my chest and shoulders and disappear. This is almost always my reaction to such things. It’s fast — only takes a moment, but it’s very unpleasant. If the injury I’m viewing is extremely horrible I might experience this feeling up to three times in a row.

    • ni99a

      Hey read this:

      Sprained d0ng.

      Kick to the nuts.

      Papercuts at my d1ck head.

      Peeled off the skin below my fingernail.

      Pluck my fingernails with pliers.

      Insert a thermometer into my urethra and broke the thermometer into pieces.

      Tell me how you feel now?

      • Headmire

        you really need a girl, you spend far too much time chatting nonsense on listverse go outside and see the 3 dimensional people

        • Maggot

          I think in that post, he spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about inflicting pain upon his own geni.tals. Hey, whatever floats his boat, I guess.

      • Sounds sexy. Tell me more. Your words have the best colors.

    • Brandon

      Weird I get a pain in my groin when seeing aomeones pain, im also extremley red green color blind

    • Lauren

      I have number form and spatial time synesthesia, but after reading your response I guess I fit into your description. Whenever someone talks about getting hurt (cutting a finger, hitting their toe against a wall, walling down, etc) I feel pain underneath my right thigh. Just thought it was a weird thing and I’ve never associated with synesthesia before.

      • Lauren

        Ugh… falling not walling

  • Not Being Fresh

    It must be a big plus when looking at porno. There I said it.

  • JJ

    Really, Listverse, what’s up with these weird or unoriginal lists recently? Why can’t we go back to the lists that made Listverse what it is. Oh well, another day, more wait for a comeback, Listverse.

  • souljacker

    ‘vivider’ ? ‘more vivid’, surely?

    • ni99a

      What is the medical term for Grammar Nazis? The symptoms are detecting and in some cases informs everyone about grammar mistakes.

      • hhenry

        What’s the medical term for Troll Nazi? The symptoms are an offensive user name, and a compulsive need to make idiotic and childish comments.

      • souljacker

        ‘The symptoms are detecting, and in some cases, informing everyone of, grammar mistakes.’

        Better, but still a little inelegant, I’m afraid! :-D

  • Vanowensbody

    Nice list but I had to look up the definition of synesthesia to fully understand the condition and thus the list.

    • ni99a

      Just because you know how hard it is to write a list, it does not mean that you are not entitled to criticism of a list.

      What you wanted to say was:

      “This list is meh but you shoulda have defined synesthesia in the introduction properly. Do not assume that we know that disease.”

      You are welcome.

      • Mayweed

        As much as it pains me to do so, I agree with this comment….

      • Paradox

        “You shoulda have”?That’s good English.

        • souljacker

          I’m working with him to improve his language skills.

  • Nikki

    I have time/space synaesthesia and it is so helpful, although until recently I thought everyone perceived time in the same way as I. When I realised they didn’t I was really shocked and my friends thought I was a little odd but it’s no big deal :)

    • ni99a

      Care to elaborate how you perceive the world?

  • Arsnl

    Items 10 and 9 dont seem that special to me. Any kid qualified as “different” would suffer from the same thing.

    #8 happens to everybody. It’s not rare to meet someone and just not like him/her or like him/her.

    #6 if you check out Daniel Tammet (youtube http://tinyurl.com/2p8ew7 ) you would see that he can perform large calculations -multiplications and divisions- by taking advantage of his synesthesia.

    But again that’s not math. Math is based on concepts and the logic that links those concepts. I find it hard to believe that a person who has synesthesia would feel anything when being presented to the concept of derivation, manifold etc.

    • ni99a

      The entry no.6’s picture seems to borderline mental retardation.

      1+1 is equal to blue.

  • mongZ

    When I was a kid, I was also a bit of a synesthete. I used to hear voices with colors like yellow, violet, and brown; and prefer letters A or C than D or X for the reasons the author had mentioned. I didn’t know it could be bothersome to some extent. I never told anybody about this thing until I first read about synesthesia back here in Listverse too.

    • ni99a

      Best get ready a coffin. We dunno if the disease is fatal or worse…. infectious….

      • mauri

        Do you ever think something you don’t say?

        • Arsnl

          He seems to write a lot of things that were not really thought through.

  • S

    OMG! I had know idea that I have been suffering from this serious condition this much. We need a support group. And we need drugs to treat this serious disability. Please someone help us!

  • LSD

    I’d be curious to know what drugs would do to a synesthete.

  • fiona

    I wonder if anyone in the UK heard a Home Truths Radio 4 programme presented by John Peel? Absolutely fascinating and to this day I remember the woman describing a currant bun in a voice descriptive in sound of a currant bun.

  • paulyicecubes

    A definition of synesthesia would have been a helpful way to start this list.

  • lovesya

    You ruined this list by not giving a good description in the intro

  • Rhett

    Cue multiple people commenting on the list that they have Synesthesia. Like people do when ADHD or Aspergers is mentioned. You’re not special!

    • Maggot

      I find it amusing that what we DON’T see is people whining about how this topic doesn’t pertain to them. As opposed to the recent list about baseball, for example. Always seems to be this double standard applied to sports lists, especially when it is a sport played predominantly in the U.S. You rarely see it in lists about other niche topics or narrow entertainment genres, because a lot people here seem to be more obsessed about nationalities rather than the subject matter at hand.

      • Arsnl

        ” sport played predominantly in the U.S”
        “a lot people here seem to be more obsessed about nationalities”
        Well I don’t think you’re immune to that :D
        And speaking of sports played in the US. Non-americans tend to diss out baseball and gridiron. But have you noticed they’re generally ok with basketball? So maybe it’s not the “nationality” of the sport. But the sport itself, that annoys and baffles people. Other example of sports that baffle people: curling or football.

        • Maggot

          Well I don’t think you’re immune to that

          Oh? Not disagreeing with you, but what makes you think that? I generally try to be pretty neutral here (try and fail? lol), but yeah I’ll admittedly be more prone to “defending” the U.S. more so than some other country on an issue where I feel an unfair stereotype or double standard is being applied. Just as you jump to downplay it every time I bring it up. Lol.

          But have you noticed they’re generally ok with basketball?

          Well basketball DOES seem to have a more international presence (as well as a pretty diverse group playing in the NBA), so I still see the being ok with as geographically based rather than topical. Just like auto racing – international consensus seems to be F1 good, NASCAR bad. Why? It’s basically the same freaking thing, just different forms. Yeah I know the circuit layouts are more varied in F1, but you rarely if ever hear that as being the reason why. With gridiron, more often than not the main complaint seems to originate around the fact that it shares a name with another more internationally beloved sport. As if the U.S. “stole” the name or is trying to usurp it or something. If U.S. football were known by a completely different moniker, I’d bet you wouldn’t see nearly the number of detractors. Just an opinion of course.

          But the sport itself, that annoys and baffles people.

          And that’s perfectly fine. But using your hoops example, I sincerely wonder why that one has become more internationally accepted. Is it really that much “better” of a game than baseball or gridiron? For some reason the U.S. sporting public doesn’t think so (based on comparative popularity of the three), so I wonder why internationally that’s not the case. It’s of course a totally subjective thing; personally, I actually consider basketball to be “boring”, when it should be right in my wheelhouse, as I’m tall and naturally athletic. Hated playing it though. No one can make another person like something that they consider to be boring, but I just find it funny that it’s ok for example to say “I hate baseball (or soccer) because it is boring”, but when someone says that about let’s say a classical music or poetry list, they get lambasted for being uncultured goons. That’s kinda what I meant about a double standard when it comes to sports, relative to other topics.

          • Arsnl

            Off topic:
            “Just as you jump to downplay it every time”
            It’s the internet. Why expect fairness here? Everbody insults everybody. And you americans get as many insults as any other nation. Unlike you, i learnt to let it go.

            ” It’s basically the same freaking thing, just different forms”
            If you think the marathon is the same as the 100 m sprint, then yes they’re basically the same thing. But no. Different tracks, we prefer some diversity, we dont like much endurance, cornering speed is important not just straight lines (thing that came to be because our roads are different and our cars are different), history, important figures, plus you guys never had Senna etc.

            “Is it really that much “better” of a game than baseball or gridiron?”
            Well in a certain sense it is much better that those 2. It’s cheaper. You just need 2 hoops and a playing surface than can be of any material.
            Why is football so so so popular? It is literally the cheapest sport out there and basically you can play it anywhere. You just need a ball (hell ive played it with plastic bottle caps in class waiting for the prof to come).
            What about baseball? You need a huge grassy surface, you need bats, you need gloves. You cant play that in the projects.
            And gridiron is even worse. Grass, pads, helmet, ball.
            So basically it’s a 1% thing, growing up, you’re more likely to play cheaper sports. Thats why WASP’s play gridiron and baseball and regular people basketball or football.

            “double standard when it comes to sports, relative to other topics.”
            Uhm sorry. You’re comparing apples and oranges. If someone says “I think Pollock is cr*p” you wouldnt be shocked. If someone says Michelangelo is BS, you’d be a bit wtf dude.
            That is I think because they had certain rules for achieving perfection and simplicity.
            I think the equivalent would be running (simple, elegant) vs any sport. You can’t say running is stupid but baseball/football/gridiron is ok.
            Running is something everybody should appreciate. Just like classical music or Michelangelo.

          • Maggot

            And you americans get as many insults as any other nation.

            You really think that? I’m talking about here on LV. We’ll just have to disagree on that I guess.

            Unlike you, i learnt to let it go.

            Yeah whatever. Stupid oversensitive me. Meh, outside of here I rarely give it a thought. I just take it on in here when I’m in the mood because I like debate in general and it’s a source of provocative material. Not like that’s the only thing I ever go after though.

            If you think the marathon is the same as the 100 m sprint,

            Playing a little loose with the an.alogies. F1 : NASCAR is not the same thing as marathon : 100m sprint. That would be more like F1 : drag-racing. A better comparison might be marathon : 10,000m? i.e. cross-country : track. But sure, Le Tour de France, is not the same as cycle racing in a velodrome. I agree with your reasoning as to perhaps why you prefer Grand Prix courses over boring oval-track auto racing. I’m a fan of neither quite frankly, but I do like drag racing. Go figure. Maybe I’ll treat you to a list about it.

            history, important figures, plus you guys never had Senna etc.

            Who are “you guys”? He’s not even European, much less French; you guys never “had” him either. Maybe you should’ve said Alain Prost? Or maybe you purposely didn’t so to demonstrate your non-nationalism? Or maybe Prost is just an “etc.” in the sport? Lol I’m just messing with you, but every sport no matter how obscure or regionally based, has its storied histories and its important figures and best-ever players who are as “important” and as revered among their sport’s fans as Senna is among his. From Dale Earnhardt toAJ Foyt to Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Joe Montana, Pelé, Sachin Tendulkar, Gordie Howe, Roger Federer, Jack Nicklas etc. etc. etc. So not sure where you were going with that one. Ayrton Senna is better than Michael Jordan? Ok… Btw, he IS an American, you know. A South American. So yay “us”. Lol.

            Well in a certain sense it is much better that those 2. It’s cheaper…Why is football so so so popular? It is literally the cheapest sport out there and basically you can play it anywhere.

            I don’t disagree with that line of reasoning (it’s a fairly common approach), but I just wonder why it doesn’t apply as much with regard to relative popularity of different sports in the U.S. You alluded to the “WASPy” and class distinction aspects, but I don’t buy that so much. Baseball, gridiron, and basketball all got their starts in the U.S. in the mid to late 1800’s. Why football didn’t take hold here then too (or sooner), I really have no idea. Ice hockey made the cut.

            You’re comparing apples and oranges. If someone says “I think Pollock is cr*p” you wouldnt be shocked. If someone says Michelangelo is BS, you’d be a bit wtf dude.

            You claim I’m comparing apples to oranges, but then put up an apple to my orange to demonstrate it? You’re comparing names within a category (“artists”), not a category to another category (as in “baseball vs. classical music”). Yes those two things are totally not related, but I’m referring to the different reactions about critiques of them as list topics. Exchange the names, oh I don’t know, Beckham and Pelé in place of Pollock and Michelangelo, and you can see that doesn’t really address whether football is a “beautiful game” (as painting a beautiful art) that should be appreciated or not. Pelé’s and Michelangelo’s respective “performances” or legacies within their fields? Yes certainly, by all means.

            Running is something everybody should appreciate. Just like classical music

            Again, I don’t much disagree, but why classical music and not death metal too? Or bluegrass? Or whatever? Because classical compositions are so complex and the music so mellifluous, one might say? Well, why doesn’t that logic apply to say, baseball vs soccer? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to “defend” baseball or attack soccer here (I don’t care who likes them or not); I’m just using it as an example of what I see as a double standard. Steering away from sports or the arts, if I or someone said “this list is boring because I don’t have synesthesia”, the likely responses would be something like “not wanting to learn about new things means you’re an ignoramus and an idiot”. But it’s ok to not want to learn about baseball.

        • Maggot

          Btw, my apologies to all for going so far off-topic to today’s list.

      • Salo Hes

        Soccer ( Or Football, let’s call it the real and only justified name ) is the most watch sports in the world. Just because one country ( Merica ) doesn’t play it doesn’t mean the rest of the worlds have to belittle the game. It’s the only game that truly brings out the sportsmanship.

        • Maggot

          Just because one country ( Merica ) doesn’t play it

          “Merica” plays it too. Now you can trot out the next standard argument – “yeah but you suck at it”.

  • Maggot

    Interesting list, Nic. But who is this “M. Synesthi” person?

    • Arsnl

      I have no idea. But I started thinking the M stands for Mystery. I started hating the author.

  • EmmSeven20

    I have mild synesthesia, and have never really experienced any troubles or setbacks except fear of sharing this with others. I have never told anyone except my doctor and husband, for fear that people will think I’m crazy. I don’t have issues with letters, but do have experiences with numbers, especially when looking at clocks: Different times of the day have different feelings and meanings for me.

    I attribute sounds to shapes. Almost any sound that I hear has a definitive shape. Listening to music is a vivid, tangible experience for me. On a funny note, this also goes for farts too! In my mind, I can “see” the shape that a fart would manifest. To many people who aren’t as understanding, the idea of this sounds pretty crazy.

    I also have constant ear worms, and always-and I mean ALWAYS-have a song playing in my head. My form of ear worms is not the typical one that most of us are struck with every now and then-when you hear a song on the radio while driving and it’s stuck in your head for the rest of the day, but eventually diminishes. I have a constant never-ending playlist, and will simply come up with random tunes. It can be triggered by hearing or reading certain words. Like if I hear or read the word strawberry-or even see one in the market-I will start “playing” the song “Strawberry Fields.” It’s most annoying upon waking, especially if it’s a song that I hate. Like yesterday morning, for example: I awoke with “Shake Your Love” by Debbie Gibson playing in my head. Superbly irritating. I haven’t actually heard that song in years! My doctor says that most people with synesthesia are prone to this, but neuroscience has yet to figure out why and how its related.

    Thanks for this list. I never realized just how many problems others like me could have. Guess I’m now grateful that my case is not so extreme.

    • Chris

      I can understand you completely. I have a very similar problem, although I have learned how to make it work for me. I see music as geometric shapes. I am a musician and this actually works for me most of the time. When I learn a new song, I’ll memorize the shape or pattern of it and then play it entirely from memory. This is both good and bad though. On the positive side, if I have heard someone else play the song before, it is generally pretty easy to memorize the shapes that they made and replicate them myself. But I have a very difficult time reading music because I can’t see the shapes or patterns. I play in an orchestra, and I just make sure to memorize the pattern of each song ahead of time so that I won’t have a problem later. I don’t use sheet music though, which sometimes leads to people in the audience asking about that.

      I have learned from experience not to talk about this very much because people really don’t understand what I’m talking about. Even other musicians look at me like I’m crazy if I mention shapes in music.

      • EmmSeven20

        I think for people like us, music is a much more corporeal and profound experience. When I hear a great song that I love, I’m much more affected by it since I can see it. Sometimes, certain pleasing notes and melodies are so remarkable that I not only see the shapes, but can feel them. And I don’t just mean feeling on an emotional level, but rather, I can almost sense what those shapes would feel like if I were to reach out and touch them. I’m betting you know what I mean, although to one without this ability, it probably sounds insane.

        I’d like to believe that some of the most gifted, brilliantly creative musicians have some form of synesthesia, whether they’re aware of it or not. Besides being able to feel the music on an emotional level, synesthetes can be inspired by using those others senses to compose. Now I’m curious to know about your creative process, and how you go about composing. How much does your ability to see shapes come into play?

    • fsutrill

      this explains many, many things in my life- I have the earworm thing and had to ‘learn’ how to ignore it until it went away, because while I usually have a song in my head, it’s happend more than once that the song played so relentlessly I felt I was literally going insane…

  • Nerd

    This “condition” sounds made up for attention. I can say “Hey, what smells blue?” it doesn’t necessarily have to be true.

    • Amy

      it’s not made up. people can see colors when they hear sounds, and feel smells. look up studies, there’s plenty of proof it’s a real thing.

      i have grapheme->color and time->space/spacial sequence synesthesia. i got to this article from another site.

      i can vouch for the reality of synesthesia, i’ve always seen letters and numbers in colors, stacked on top of eachother, months in a big oval around me, years as a big kind of ladder thing also in colors. i thought everyone saw things like i did until i brought it up to my friend a few years ago and she looked at me like i was crazy. i actually didn’t believe her when she said she didn’t see 8 as yellow, i thought she was just pretending she didn’t in fear of sounding crazy. in january i found a synesthesia description and i’m like “wait, this has a name? but i see things like that.” and realized my friend really did think i was crazy.

      i’ve seen things like this for as long as i can remember. i assure you i have no idea how you’re “normally” supposed to see numbers or dates or sequences. my girlfriend has OLP and thought EVERYONE gave numbers and letters personalities, because they’ve had the same personalities since she was a child. i had to convince her that numbers aren’t people to most others.

      if you’re still not convinced it’s real, like i said, just look it up. there are plenty of videos and studies on it. here’s a video on it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KApieSGlyBk

      • Nerd

        Just cause you say you can vouch for it doesn’t make it true either. Still sounds like a bunch a people trying to feel special. Look at all the people on this list alone that say they have it. It’s like mass hysteria. Did everything just taste purple for a second? Yes, yes it did.

  • raven

    what else is fun is when you have underlying mental illnesses and synesthesia. for a long time, both my best friend and i assumed we had schizophrenia because she’d associate music with people’s voices and i’d get memories of things that didn’t happen and with very visceral emotional reactions that went beyond simply “being moved to tears” or what have you. come to find out she was clinically depressed and i have DID as well as synesthesia. go figure. but it can get scary when you can’t tell whether you’re having hallucinations or just experiencing normal parts of your synesthesia.

  • joe

    i got synesthesia the last time i tripped on acid

  • Pippa

    FASCIN8ING!

  • Jesi

    I have smell->color and I was trying to describe this weird smell in my psych classroom to my friends once. All I could come up with was “sweet and pink” and they laughed. I told them about my OLP too, and they seemed to think it was weird but cool and overall responded positively. I’m glad I haven’t had to deal with being made fun of. (: I’m also glad I’ve always been a quiet kid; I’ve had synesthesia all my life, but if I talked about numbers/letters as people in elementary school I probably would’ve been picked on more than if I talked to my friends about it now.

    • Mmmmmmmmm

      Sweet and pink. I remember that from my college days too.

  • Missy

    This is an auto of my youngest daughter.

  • My younger son has sound-color synesthesia. He sees music and other sounds as colored wavy lines, geometric shapes, etc. He sometimes has to turn off his music when when he’s driving — it’s too distracting. He actually enjoys it though. (The fact that we were accepting and understanding about it may have helped.) He once made a little video showing his visions playing along with a heavy-metal song — quite interesting.

  • This Is A Joke Right?

    So you you smell that you are crazy, or just feel it. Just one of the downsides to modern science, the insane live long enough to reproduce.

  • Topher

    i have a question, is it possible to out grow synesthesia. because i clearly recall associating objects with shapes or smells with certain shapes and other things with numbers while growing up, like for example i would smell cooking chicken and a triangle would appear in my mind, i would then associate the triangle with a number 3. and i didn’t hear of synesthesia until i was a teenager. by that time it seemed to of disappeared. i had emotional an anger issues growing up as well.

  • I watched a program on this subject, and recall some famous (whose name i have forgotten…) conducter complaining to his orchestra to play “more blue!”
    I will also say I lost a little interest around no.5 …maybe a little too much information…

  • Blight

    It’s not synesthesia, you idiots just need to put the LSD down.

  • That boi harry penis

    I have mild synesthesia. Numbers and letters have colors for no reason and the colors are always the same. sounds also have colors but i struggle to see color in sounds.

  • Mac Murphy

    This disorder sounds pretty far-fetched but I can kind of believe it because on a few occasions of extreme anger everything I saw turned dark red. The phenomena could be linked.

  • fsutrill

    this explains a lot- my father and I share an ‘aversion’ to high places. Not fear of the heights themselves, but a vivid sensation that we are about to involuntarily fling ourselves off of places like that.

    I wonder what it is when you hear a word and it makes you associate an object with it- forever the name ‘Keith’ has made me envision soggy cigars (weird, I know). I have other names that do that, but not consistently- mainly memories from when I was a kid and it seemed to happen more often.

    The vision-touch one is me- I can *see* an injury and not ‘feel’ it, but if someone describes it to me, I start having sympathetic sensations. I wonder if this/spatial relation one is also why I ‘drive by feel’- I never get lost, I just sort of ‘feel’ where I am supposed to be and sort of ‘know’ how to get there.

    Anyway, this whole thing made me feel a bit less crazy… :-)

    Thanks! (although I agree with the other posters who said that an explanation at the beginning would have been nice)

  • Don’t Assume We Know

    I have never heard of synesthesia and this article did not explain to me one bit what it was. :|

  • Liz

    I have grapheme-color and OLP synesthesia and I’m accually in advanced math. The only disadvantages I can think of are trouble telling left from right and getting creeped out from objects because of my object personification. Not that my synesthesia never annoys me or that everyone who doesn’t have it has a terrible existence or anything. I do think trouble telling left from right should be on the list though.