home
RSS
On the Brain: When numbers have color: Synesthesia
November 17th, 2010
11:49 AM ET

On the Brain: When numbers have color: Synesthesia

For a special 2 percent of the population, the world seems a little more surreal.

In a condition called synesthesia, there are extra connections among parts of the brain related to individual senses. The actual experience varies, but some say that numbers, letters, sounds or even faces appear to have colors associated with them that most people don't see. For some, it's just an association; others actually do think they see those colors. Here's how color vision works, by the way.

Now, scientists have new clues about how the brains of people with synesthesia give rise to these bizarre-seeming perceptions. Synesthesia expert V.S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, presented the findings this week in a  press conference at Neuroscience 2010, the Society for Neuroscience meeting.

Among the findings are that the hippocampus, a brain region essential for memory, has extra connections in people who say that certain numbers remind them of particular colors. In contrast, sensory areas of the brain show greater connectivity in those who believe that they are actually seeing these colors in the numbers. Thus, there are different neural mechanisms for these two kinds of synesthesia, finds Romke Rouw of the University of Amsterdam.

This study also found that people with synesthesia generally have more white matter, indicating increased connectivity, in the fusiform gyrus, a brain area involved in the processing color, numbers, letters and faces.

"It doesn't get any better in neuroscience, when you get a quirky, odd, crazy psychological phenomenon and actually pin it down to changes on wiring in the brain, based on genes," Ramachandran said.

Research presented by David Brang at the University of California, San Diego suggests that the synesthestic brain uses this increased connectivity to transfer information from one area to another. He and colleagues used magnetoencephalography, a method of recording neural activity. They showed that activity in the brains people with synesthesia flows from the visual areas to the visual processing areas in recognizing a number, and then to the brain's color area about five to 10 milliseconds later. This did not happen in participants who do not have the condition.

Ramachandran and colleagues have also identified a gene that appears to be involved in the condition. Although synesthesia does not necessarily make people more artistic, but it does seem to pop up among noted creative people; for example, novelist Vladimir Nabokov, physicist Richard Feynman and composer Franz Liszt. Ramachandran's theory is that, genetically, synesthesia has persisted throughout the centuries in humans because of its association with creativity.

Besides seeing colors where they wouldn't be otherwise, other reported effects of synesthesia are even more mysterious: For example, some associate numbers with "male" and "female."

Many parents of children with autism e-mail Ramachandran and Brang asking them about a link between autism and synesthesia, because their children appear to have sensory abnormalities resembling synesthesia. The link has not been scientifically proven, but Brang believes there still could be some connection.


soundoff (275 Responses)
  1. Carol

    This is a very interesting disorder. There is a book called "A Mango Shaped Space" which tells the story of a young girl with this disorder and how if affects her life. Check it out!

    November 17, 2010 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • David Wood

      So why do you say this is a "disorder"? Just because it's different from how you are? Pathetic.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:14 | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      David, why is that pathetic? It's just an opinion. Settle down and be nicer, plz.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:16 | Report abuse |
    • someoneelse

      A disorder is anything that ventures a certain distance from the norm. It's you who has given the word a negative connotation.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      @David Wood

      From Miriam-Webster: "disorder: an abnormal physical or mental condition"
      When only 2% of the population have this condition, it's safe to say it isn't "normal".

      November 17, 2010 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      I wouldn't call it a disorder, just a difference. Disorder makes it sound like something is wrong with the person, perhaps it's actually a sign of being more evolved. Now it's true that people with disorders may also have this condition, but that doesn't mean that everyone that is like that has other disorders.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse |
    • Zippit

      @Carol (and Mark by proxy) . . . there are a LOT of things that less than 2% of the population can do, like running the 100m dash in less than 10 seconds. Would you say that the people that can accomplish that also have a disorder? Poor choice of words.
      I'll refer you to this excerpt within the article "This study also found that people with synesthesia generally have more white matter, indicating increased connectivity, in the fusiform gyrus, a brain area involved in the processing color, numbers, letters and faces." . . . I think I'll go with "extraordinary ability" instead.

      November 17, 2010 at 19:28 | Report abuse |
    • Anne

      I don't see these colors but kind of cool 🙂

      November 17, 2010 at 19:43 | Report abuse |
    • Nancy

      Perhaps this condition is learned. Some parents will try to teach their children numbers and words through rewards before they reach school age. For example: If you are trying to teach your toddler to count to 5, you might set out 5 marshmallows and move them while counting with words the numbers 1-5. So then the child learns to count to 5 but, also, associates the color white and the smell of marshmallows with the numbers 1-5. Another example: A student is having difficulty with fractions and a mom bakes a blueberry pie and slices it into 8 sections. Takes a piece gives it to the child and says you now have 1/8 of the pie. The student learns 1/8 is blue and taste and smells like blueberry pie. Another example: For words, your child is trying to spell carribean as they are writing the word over and over again, you describe it as blue and tell them it smells like salt. Perhaps you even bring over the salt shaker and let them smell it as they practice the word. They finally can spell the word through memory so you reward them with a "blue" rasberry popsickle. So now when they hear or write carribean, they think blue, smells like salt but taste like rasberry. Also, remember teaching them numbers with those colored flashcards or words with those colored letter magnets? Maybe this is why their brains wire up more connections, because some people are taught in a multi dimensional way. Do you think that is possible?

      November 17, 2010 at 20:17 | Report abuse |
    • Becca

      So I've had this all of my life- associate colors with numbers & letters. Only realized others did not have this/ do this as an adult. It's not a disorder.
      I think it helped me! How can Mathematics mean anything without color?

      November 17, 2010 at 20:31 | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      I think you went a bit over board there David. I have Synesthesia and I prefer to think of it as a quirk than a disorder (due to the negative connotation of the word), but there's nothing wrong in calling it what it is.

      November 17, 2010 at 22:21 | Report abuse |
    • Opinion

      Carol,
      It's not a disorder, it's a gift. How would you like it if every time you thought of a number there was a color? Seven is Purple, Three is Green, Four is Red. How would you like it when music plays colors streak in your mind? Higher icier notes are sharp blues and whites. It's wonderful. If only you were so lucky for this "disorder". Because to me it is a beautiful wonderful gift, that i enjoy every day. Having someone call it a "disorder" is almost like an insult, a disorder impairs someone and handicaps them while this doesn't do that. Please think before you speak Carol, because really this is a truly wonderful gift that people are blessed with.
      With All Do Respect,
      Opinionated.

      November 18, 2010 at 09:51 | Report abuse |
    • Violet

      The hallmark that makes synaesthesia different from the kinds of learned associations you're talking about a couple comments up is that synaesthetes tested over years and even decades repeat identical associations with a high degree of accuracy, whereas the learned associations you describe tend to change over time, often substantially. I've had synaesthesia all my life and the links between, say, letters and colors have been consistent since I was 4 or 5 years old. I also have plenty of learned associations, and like everyone else, those change over time - but the synaesthetic associations do not. Ever.

      November 18, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      sounds cool – will check it out

      November 25, 2010 at 23:30 | Report abuse |
    • starrise57

      @Carol
      Disorder sounds like it makes one unable to function, which is certainly not the case. It's just a condition!

      @Nancy
      Everyone is born with synesthesia or connected senses but our brains usually shut them down by the time we are toddlers. Has nothing to do with early learning or anything like that, but I think it makes it even more interesting. So even if you don't have synesthesia now, you did years ago!

      January 12, 2011 at 19:01 | Report abuse |
  2. Jan

    There are several different kinds of synesthesia; my type is almost never mentioned. Words, phrases, and names have specific tastes. It's not always about colors and numbers!

    November 17, 2010 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CC

      That's not crazy. When I taste something, I hear musical notes. It's how I know when something tastes good: the harmonies are correct.

      November 17, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse |
    • Chad

      I' can't believe there is an actual term for this. All of my life I just thought was weird becasue I categorize every letter and number into specific colors and sexes. I might still be weird but at least I can call it something now!

      November 17, 2010 at 14:53 | Report abuse |
    • Robin

      I associate numbers with color, but I also associate colors with even or odd. My 14 yr old does it , too. I thought that I was strange, looks like I'm creative. Go figure

      November 17, 2010 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
    • reide

      I have a similar experience. I associate certain words with foods – a particular word can actually make me crave a certain food. For example, in that last sentence, the word "particular" reminds me of green peppers with salad dressing, and "certain" reminds me of waffles. Other words are neutral to me.

      I also associate colors with numbers, letters, and days of the week. I often get my 8s and my 3s mixed up, because they are both "yellow" to me. (I don't see the color yellow; this is just in my mind's eye.)

      November 17, 2010 at 17:15 | Report abuse |
    • mayb

      Stuff You Should Know did an excellent podcast on this condition some time ago – in the podcast they not only touch on number/color association but also letters/colors and how a 'select few' see time/day/month/year as a 3D construct revolving around their body. – think that might be a different condition – still super crazy!

      November 17, 2010 at 17:34 | Report abuse |
    • Kent

      Hmm... seems most words, numbers, sounds, etc, make me think of drinking milkshakes. Now, what does that mean (other than I have to change my wardrobe often)?

      November 17, 2010 at 18:19 | Report abuse |
    • jenn

      I am jealous.

      November 17, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse |
    • Opinion

      Thats right, there is way more than colors, tastes, feelings go with words or phrases, music everything ties together. Certain feelings provoke certain tunes.

      November 18, 2010 at 09:54 | Report abuse |
  3. Gregg Mangiafico

    I wouldn't consider this a disorder. Musicians that have "perfect pitch" have a tremendous advantage over those that don't. Most perfect pitchers that I've talked to say that they see colors when they hear notes, and have learned to relate the colors to musical notes on the staff.

    November 17, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • elandau

      You're absolutely right, Gregg. There is an association between synesthesia and perfect pitch, although not all with synesthesia have perfect pitch, and vice versa. Also, I used the word "condition" rather than "disorder" because, according to these researchers, there are no proven negative qualities about having synesthesia. One possible detriment in certain people with it, however, is a reduced ability to recognize faces.

      Thanks for reading.

      Elizabeth Landau
      CNN.com

      November 17, 2010 at 15:07 | Report abuse |
    • steve

      I've worked with a handful of musicians with perfect pitch over the years. While it makes for a neat parlor trick, and can come in handy when the battery in one's tuner dies, it hardly confers a "tremendous advantage". Give me players/singers
      with solid training, good taste, and a touch of humility, and I'll give you good music.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
    • CoqCheney

      While there can be said to be a connection between some people's perfect pitch and synesthesia, the two are not particularly related. Certain types of the condition render pitches to seem "obvious" to relevant individuals, but the term "perfect pitch" amounts to a memory trick which may be taught to any experienced musician... color association being one method of training (though this is like a mnemonic device, and not synesthesia). The mathematics of western even-tempered harmony are ample evidence that pitch-memory is precisely that, and not some remarkable aural phenomenon. Resonance follows the physics of wave theory, not western music, and so any correlation between synesthesia and music should be examined from THAT perspective, prior to any approximated system, such as 12-tone even temperament.

      Regarding synesthesia, the presence of hyper-connectivity has been assumed for quite some time, but no correlation between subjects' perceptions has ever shown particular interest. In most cases, it seems that the awareness is definitely expanded, but the associative system is formed within the subject's perception, and not due to any external correlation.

      As to autism, little is understood of autism or synesthesia, and there are many places upon each spectrum for a given subject to fall. Only those "high-functioning autistics" can generally express their own experiences in a manner that "nuero-typicals" can understand, and those experiences may be mired in many types of synesthesia, or affected by something else entirely.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
    • Macayla

      My daughter at the age of 8 started playing the flute and she would comment that the notes were like colors floating up – now I know that it is something that other people experience.

      November 17, 2010 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      I have perfect pitch and also see colors with most pitches. It certainly makes my job easier but students ask me how I can do that, to which I reply, "I don't understand why you can't do it – it is normal to me."

      November 17, 2010 at 20:15 | Report abuse |
    • Laura in PDX

      Thanks Gregg, for mentioning that kind of synesthesia; I have the spectrum but don't hear about as many people's descriptions of colors and light having sound, or music having colors that I experience most frequently. And, in regards to the poster above, it is not from learning letters and numbers with colored plastic objects like the picture at the top of the page. By first grade I learned from teachers' and classmates' negative reactions that they did not experience numbers and letters like I did, or see the shapes that music made in my head, or hear the sunset sound. It is the way we are in the world, the spark of recognition that occurs when two people meet who have this is incapable of being false. Discovery Channel had a BBC show about synesthesia a few years ago, it's probably on YouTube somewhere.

      November 17, 2010 at 23:01 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      its a super power – super super

      November 25, 2010 at 23:31 | Report abuse |
  4. lapsrus

    I have always connected numbers with colors. For instance, 11 and 13 are yellow, and 48 is blue. So is 12, which is divisible into 48. I don't know if it's a conicidence, or if my brain is doing the math, too. I never thought anything about it, but lately these news items have been popping up. At least it's a harmless disorder....

    November 17, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Victoria

      Isn't this funny...I read what you said the colors are for these numbers and immediately thought "no, no, he's wrong! Eleven is kind of a milky grey...and 13 is white-and-green, because of course 3 is green..."! Wouldn't you think we'd see the same colors?! Actually, scrolling down through the other comments, what the writer 'C' wrote is close to what I 'see.' Anyhow, this is interesting...I always felt kind of wierd, because no one I spoke to about this understood or had the same trait (or disorder?). This article and all the comments make me feel better!

      November 17, 2010 at 17:22 | Report abuse |
    • Opinion

      It's not a disorder. Its a gift, Color makes the world wonderful. I've associated colors with everything all my life, and it's not just colors for me,when i read certain words or phrases i hear music notes, or tunes in my head that goes with that phrase or word. Everyone always says 'i wish i had background music for my life, or books, and etc' and i do. I have that, and it's amazing. it's a true gift.

      November 18, 2010 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
  5. Jen

    I have synesthesia where numbers, letters, words, sounds, and smells have color. I thought everyone experienced the same things until maybe college. I am a professional musician, and while I don't consider myself as having perfect pitch, I can identify chords by their color.
    For me it's certainly not a disorder. I would imagine things would be a lot more dull without enhancement to basic senses...

    November 17, 2010 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Hannah

    There are many (of us) with this ability, it's just many don't talk about it. Numbers and melodies have colors, flavors, smells and emotions. The Discovery channel did a special on this several months ago. It was very informative.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jenn

      "ability", I like. "disorder", I don't. I WANT this ability.

      November 17, 2010 at 20:56 | Report abuse |
  7. KL

    My sisters and I used to argue what colors the days of the week were. We all agreed they had color, just disagreed on the specifics, and sometimes the texture. Thursday is a fuzzy teal, and Saturday is metallic-shiny lemon yellow.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • C

      Me too KL. Monday is white, Tuesday is orange, Wednesday is brown, Thursday is blueish-purple, Friday is brown, Saturday is red or brown. Sunday is yellow.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:09 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      haha – better than the fights i had

      November 25, 2010 at 23:33 | Report abuse |
  8. palval

    I, too, have this "disorder" where my brain applies colors to letter and numbers. Sometimes , if speaking only a few words or calling a name, I can see those letters in front of me in living colors. By the way, the colors of my letters and numbers never change. "A" is always red, "M" is always ochre, "P" is always light blue...very specific tints... and it's been this way for as long as I can remember.
    I do not appear to be dsylexic or autistic but people tell me I am sensitive and artistic.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leslie

      I'm with you on the colors you see with the letters and numbers you mentioned except M. M for me is magenta. A,E, and Y are always red, and I, O, and U are always white. The other letters have specific colors too. I didn't realize until the last few years how few people experience this. My parents were surprised and confused when I told them, but my wife shares the trait–although her colors are different.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:55 | Report abuse |
  9. mary

    I have always tasted colors.. Never even thought of it as a "disorder"... I just thought I was putting the color to a food I liked and remembered when I was very small..
    And I wonder if that might be what his is really all about.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • C

      Again, me too. I can relate to many of these posts. "Cool" colors (blue, green, purple, etc) are sweet. "Warm" colors (red, brown, orange, etc.) are salty/savory or sour.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  10. Susan

    Regarding "disorder", clearly it is a small cross wire in the brain that is meshing colors into other senses and perceptions. Just that it is not uniform from person to person tells you it's not objectively real in any sense of the word. My colors are associated with people, and how I feel about them. This can change as my feelings change, slowly over time, for certain people.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Robert M

    Sometimes I can smell "number two"

    November 17, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JoJo

      Ha!

      November 17, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
    • Stargazer

      Funny! I usually smell number 2 when I step in it.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:04 | Report abuse |
  12. David

    The real question here is: do people with this condition associate the same colors with the same numbers? In other words, if I see 2 as "red" for example, will all others with this ability also see it as red? Or will they see it differently than I do? If we all see it the same, it's almost like a "sixth sense" to a secret code that only a small number of us have a natural access to.....

    November 17, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jenn

      Most people with synaesthesia do not agree on the attributes of something. It tends to be unique to the individual (studies have been done on this). The word Monday is the color red for me, while another person I met says it's the color green, and yet another said it was blue.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse |
    • Momof4

      That would mean the word "Monday" doesn't really have a color associated with in in the physical world. So, I wonder what it is within the brain that assigns that color? It must have to do with personal experiences...very interesting.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
    • Karisa

      It simply depends on the person. You may see 2 as red, but I see 2 as a light pink, young girl. She's shy, annoyed by 3 (light green) and in love with 4 (blue), hence the two times she can go into him. Example, if you see the letter G as purple, I've always seen it as solider green.

      November 19, 2010 at 22:05 | Report abuse |
  13. Dave

    I agree, this is fascinating. I saw a Nova or Discovery special about this several years ago. As for synesthesia having "no proven negative qualities," I recall they showed a man for whom different spoken words had different tastes. Some words produced such a disagreeable taste that he could not bear to hear or speak them. I think that qualifies as a negative quality because it would hinder his ability to communicate. Suppose the word "help" tasted like manure?

    November 17, 2010 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. chris

    Wow....how neat! I'd love to see color in music and see/taste sounds. I agree "disorder" is probably not the correct word....good for all of you that can actually attach this sense to something. Imagine being able to see your music as you play it, how much would that help/enhance one's ability?!.... in the meantime I'll keep wishing!

    November 17, 2010 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Momof4

      Me too! I wish I had this "disability" although I think the rest of us are the "disabled." It sounds like people with synesthesia are actually using more of their brain than the rest of us. Perhaps they have moved forward to the next level of evolution!

      November 17, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
  15. John

    To me ranges of numbers have colors and shades. For instance 20-30 appears to me as starting at 20 as light blue and growing darker toward 30.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Mel B

    I've found that songs that have the most appeal to me are the ones that my mind associates with either a single color, a range of a specific color, or a range of several colors.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. talon10

    I don't see colors when I see a word or number, but to me, every word or number invokes a color in my mind. Especially days of the week (Wednesday is orange), months (November is brown) numbers (three is green) etc. I just see that color associated with the word in my head.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shanny

      Hey my 3s are green too! Thursday is brown for me. I also have a strong association of numbers to letters like 3 is E and 8 is A. I am so glad I came across this article, I never new there was a name for it. I assumed everyone had these associations.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
  18. Lauren

    When I was younger I wrote joke paper about how letters and numbers had a gender. It's nice to know I'm not just crazy but that a lot of other people have similar associations!

    November 17, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Dick Lepre

    There is anecdotal evidence that LSD enhances synesthesia in regard to seeing different sounds as colors. I can rememnber producing a Grateful Dead concert in 1969 and having Owsley say to me, "Can you see the colors coming out of the speakers." If anyone would know, he would.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Joshua G

    Only when I'm on LSD.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jenn

      actually, there's something to that...personal experience

      November 17, 2010 at 20:51 | Report abuse |
  21. Momof4

    This is really cool, I love learning these things about the brain. I wish my brain did this, I think life would be a lot more...well, colorful!

    My son has autism and he sees colors and experiences tastes with certain letters (not all), and we always wonder if he sees auras (although, I'm super skeptical of this) because he sees colors "floating" around people. We just figure he is privileged to see another dimension to the world that the rest of us are blind to.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PM98

      I wouldn't be too skeptical about the auras. It's not a "spiritual" connection, but more of the brain associating certain colors with certain people linked to how they move, behave, speak, personality, and more.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse |
    • Beckles

      That's awesome; I bet your son can definitely see auras! I tend to only notice them with "bad" people, or people that are in pain (emotional or physical). I remember telling my mom when I was about 5 that a man in the grocery store was really dark green. I think she just thought I was playing a game, but when we had to go in an aisle where he was, I practically freaked out. He was definitely one to avoid.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
    • Momof4

      That's cool, and what a great gift to be able to "see" whether a person is someone to avoid or not!

      When my son was in pre-school, he would draw all people with "halos" around their entire head. We asked him what that was, and he would just say, "that's Grandma" or something. He doesn't draw people with halos anymore, but said that everyone has color surrounding them, and sometimes the color changes. Mine is usually white or purple, but strangers don't usually have colors. So, I do think that perhaps the color has to do with his own perceptions a little...but it could be an actual spiritual aura thing. I just think he's a cool kid...with cool quirks. My husband thinks he's an "indigo child" – look that up if you've never heard of it. Very interesting, although I still have a hard time believe a lot of it. Take care!!

      November 17, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
    • SF

      I have something similar to your son, except instead of seeing peoples' auras (or essences) I smell them. My best friend smells like lemony-freshly-clipped-grass. She always has to me, and she always will. It a trait of her, like brown hair and green eyes. It's not something supernatural or bad, it's just another layer of perception.

      November 18, 2010 at 20:02 | Report abuse |
    • SF

      Another interesting similarity is that strangers don't have clear scents to me. They're kind of "unclear," or not in range, scent-wise. I need to get close (emotionally and physically) to a person for them to have a scent. Also, my perceptions of/relationship with a person affects the scent they have.

      November 18, 2010 at 20:10 | Report abuse |
  22. butbut

    I remember having this as a child with numbers and one day mentioned it to my mother, not knowing it was unusual, and I remember her looking at me like I was crazy. I never mentioned it again and over the years I did not consciously equate color with numbers on a consistant basis. Also I suck at higher math, to this day I have no idea how to do algebra.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. PM98

    I have this ever since I can remember. I also have a form of functional autism, so I'm not surprised by the supposed link. Another connection with color – emotions, words heard that appear in the mind as abstract shapes in certain colors, expressions, and more.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Beckles

    I have this condition; it really is interesting trying to explain it to others. Numbers definitely have a gender for me, and some colors "sing". I know I'm not really hearing them, but it's like having a sound or tone in my head. Orange is particularly loud and blue doesn't have a sound for me, in any shade. Another interesting aspect is dates; I envision the yearly calendar as a long sidwalk, day-by-day, all in a line. Having to go from December 31st to January 1st is like having to run down the sidewalk back to the beginning. Months and days have gender for me as well.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PM98

      When you hear certain words, do you in your mind's eye see abstract shapes in certain colors? I experience this.

      Interesting you say that certain colors have sounds – for me, certain colors are emotional carrying almost a personality type. When I was younger, I was obsessed with green. Still am actually. Ha.

      November 17, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Here's a rendering of the synesthetic calendar that I've had in my head for as long as I can remember. It's different from yours, but I thought you'd find it interesting.

      http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/IXHclPeeVDFxP9TDG9Wk-g?feat=directlink

      November 17, 2010 at 19:24 | Report abuse |
    • GreenApple

      Dana, your year calander is very similar to mine. Mine is more of a squashed oval that a smooth circle, but I also view the year on a tilt with January 1st at the top. September is at the bottom for me (probably because that's when the school year began?), so I never associate June with being halfway through the year. To me, September feels halfway through the year, even though I know this isn't correct. Subsequently, the "second half" of my year (Sept-Dec.) seems to fly by because it's only four months.

      I also view numbers, months, and days of the week as having certain genders and personalities. I wish I associated colors with numbers (it sounds beautiful), but I have a personality based synesthesia instead. This time of year is a confusing for me because I keep writing "September" instead of "November" since these two months have similar personalities to me (middle aged women who probably teachers, and have grown children that no longer live at home). Their numbers (9 and 11) also have somewhat similar personalities so I always find myself writing the date wrong in November.

      Look up sysnesthesia on Wikipedia. It lists some of the different synesthesia varieties so you can find a name for your gift.

      November 19, 2010 at 12:08 | Report abuse |
  25. Amanda

    i find all this facinating. i'm actually jealous. i'd love to see the world in more color.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Mark

    Hmmm. Apparently I have a modest form of Synesthesia. I see a white flash of light that varies in intensity based on the volume of a sound. I am most conscious of the phenomenon just prior to sleep (eyes closed) or, when awakened from sleep by a modest to loud sound / bright flash of white light. From an evolutionary perspective I always thought it was interesting... it's hard to sneak up on me while sleeping. From a practical perspective... it's sort of annoying as I have difficulty getting to sleep / staying asleep.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Amy

      My brother has something similar. He sees flahes of light in the shape of dots and dashes depending on noise he hears. He didn't tell me about this until I was about 20, and I was very surprised. It seems to me that it would be very distracting while trying to listen to people talk in school or at work.

      I would be very interested to know if there's any link to Asperberger's/autism. I've heard that in the brains of people with Aspberger's, the part that deals with music is 3 times more sensitive than in an ordinary person's.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
  27. chiquita

    I associate each state in the United States with a color...

    November 17, 2010 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • goog

      like red or blue

      November 17, 2010 at 16:03 | Report abuse |
    • jenn

      goog ....now, c'mon...this isn't about politics

      November 17, 2010 at 20:49 | Report abuse |
  28. Mike S

    Roy Huskey Jr. had this talent. He always said he liked playing in (Bb) black.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Mark

    I have this condition, where I associate a color with each individual number and letter. I have experienced this for as long as I can remember.

    I don't actually "see" the colors. What I have is the aesthetic experience. That is, P and p are "red". I get the same aesthetic experience in dealing with the letter "P" as I get when I see the color red.

    I love having this. It helps me remember things, like spelling, since I know certain colors go together.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. MACT

    I don’t see them as colors, but numbers are arranged in a distinct pattern. 1-10 are arranged vertically, 11-20 horizontally, 21-30 vertically, 31-100 on a diagonal and then straight up for the rest. Negative numbers form a pool or blob below zero.

    November 17, 2010 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GreenApple

      This is called "number form synesthesia", which I also experience with regular numbers (ages), the yearly calander, and the alphabet. I'm not sure if the alphabet counts since they're number numbers, but I do view the letters in a specific line the same way I view numbers.

      November 19, 2010 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
  31. edward

    I have always associated numbers and colors never thought it was out of the ordinary.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Sam

    I've been experiencing this since I was a child. As an adult in a committed, long-term relationship, I have noticed it has carried over to, ahem, certain "activities". I see colors and textures with different sensations, and they're always the same every time. At the end, they all seem to run together and it can be very overwhelming. Anyone else experience this?

    November 17, 2010 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Jack

    i smell people's scents in their ink handwriting.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Joe

    Another one: Darrell Hammond, former SNL star, for the voices he does.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Dr. Parson

    Not only do numbers (and letters) have colors and sometimes even genders to those affected by synesthesia, but in one case I've seen: a woman connected personalities with different numerical characters. These quirky personalities would conflict with one another as a child during school. This woman's grandmother too had synesthesia and noted that numbers had seperate personalities different then that of her grandchild's. The first woman's mother and sisters did not have any signs of synesthesia.

    So it seems that there is more than one form of synesthesia that can be passed on genetically and even skip generations.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GreenApple

      This is called ordinal-linguistic personification synesthesia....when you associate gender/personalities with certain numbers, letters, months, etc.

      November 19, 2010 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
  36. Tyson

    ok, honestly, if you are going to wright an article about something at least spell the main word in the title right!! it is spelt Synaesthesia, not Synesthesia.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • IfEyesCouldSpeak

      Synesthesia vs. Synaesthesia. Color vs. Colour. What's the difference? It's the same thing!

      November 17, 2010 at 16:19 | Report abuse |
    • BoLoMT

      ok, honestly, if you are going to write a comment about something at least spell the the words right! it is spelt write, not wright.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse |
    • Tyson

      ok, i know but i am not wrighting a published article, she spelt the main point wrong in the title itself. Isn't someone suppose to review that, plus to wright a comment it doesnt have spell check, word knows that word is wrong. All im saying is if your going to do something like this, atleast do it right

      November 17, 2010 at 16:36 | Report abuse |
  37. MooMoo

    I thought everyone had this. It is great fun to find someone else that has this and to just throw out a word or letter and see what their color is. "O" for me is black and everything starting with that letter is black. Saturday and Sunday are both red as Tuesday and Thursday are both a dark yellow.

    What fun!

    November 17, 2010 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. IfEyesCouldSpeak

    Could Synesthesia be on the Schizophrenia Spectrum?

    November 17, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LexiC

      I have often wondered about a schizophrenia-synesthesia link too, after seeing a Discovery Health special titled January's Story: Born Schizophrenic. In it the child seems to have an overwhelming case of grapheme synesthesia- associating numbers with colors and personalities, as well as with days of the week. I have also seen similar instances of this in the lock-down psyche unit I've been doing clinicals on for nursing school- mainly with people diagnosed as having a schizoaffective disorder of some type.

      I can see how if you have an extremely intense case of synesthesia it could make you go crazy. I can physically 'see' colors when exposed to sounds, and can, in very noisy situations, become a little overwhelmed by the excessive visual stimulation. I also tend to react strongly to people depending on how I like or dislike the 'color' of their voice- making snap judgments that are sometimes wrong. However, closing my eyes does not make the colors go away, but mutes them slightly. There is no history of schizophrenia or autism in my family, however, my mom and sister have their own variations of synesthesia and are extremely dyslexic.

      I also have a very mild form of grapheme synesthesia where I associate certain numbers and letters with colors and personalities. Examples: I love the letter 'J' because it makes me think of a really bright fun green, and solid, not fuzzy or runny. I perceive it as a male, who is prone to laughter and good humor- though capital J is less 'fun' than lower case j. I hate the number 6 because inspires images of a faded pastel yellow, smudgey. I don't perceive a gender, but see it as an anxious, whiney and indecisive individual. I call this mild because they are perceptions and do not generally affect my day to day or stand out too much in my mind.

      November 17, 2010 at 22:37 | Report abuse |
  39. Paul P

    There is a fantastic documentary on this condition. Go to YouTube and search for "Extraordinary People: The Boy With The Incredible Brain" He experiences synesthasia. His name is Daniel Tammet. I watched this documentary several years ago, and found it very fascinating.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Inga

    I have this condition. I associate every letter and number with a different color 🙂

    November 17, 2010 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Deb

    I've been this way all my life, and my father(a neuropathalogist) never realized the connection. I'm intrigued by this. I'm a musician, and have had a special relationship with sound and color as long as I can remember. I especially remember coloring with specific colors when different music was played in Kindergarten(I went to a KinderCollege that concentrated on music education.) Glad to see an interesting story in the news.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Cheryl

    For me, decades, numbers,and days of the week have colors...the fifties are blue, the sixties, bright green...seventies are brown etc...I was so glad that i saw a story about this last year, and that it had a name.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      The different months have colors to me.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse |
  43. Jack

    This is unusual. If all of the different people all see the same colors for the same numbers, then this may be special.
    If they all see different colors for the same number, then they have some kind of disorder.

    I always think of the number 4 as red, because of those childrens teaching tools.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Sean

    It must not be that rare, almost everyone in this blog seems to have it!

    November 17, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. jj

    One of my aunts, a pianist, saw a different color for each note on the scale.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. erica

    I am still waiting to meet someone else who has synaesthesia..... Until recently, I thought everyone was this way: I see every letter and number in a specific color. Also, words have dominant colors too. It's a good way to remember phone numbers and other things. Color makes more sense to me for navigation and other things too. .... I am also in a creative field – video, writing, etc. Sometimes sounds have colors and shapes too – like cartoons do. So, I thought everyone must experience those kinds of things.... (ie – screechy noise has red icicle dagger things)

    November 17, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      Try Googling for Synethesia chat or discussion groups or even organizations. I bet they exist.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:55 | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      By the way, I know other people that have it and I'm borerline myself that way. You also might try mentioning that you associate numbers with colors to people you trust not to make fun of you or think you are crazy. You may find that you have had a friend right under your nose all along with the same ability/condition. It's not the sort of thing that people usually talk about for fear of ridicule.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:59 | Report abuse |
  47. Picklehead

    While I associate numbers with colors, I wonder if it really is this condition, or am I basing this off subconcious memories of some colorful toy numbers when I was a child.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      I associate colors and numbers too, but that doesn't mean I actually see them like that in my mind's eye whenever certain numbers come up. I once knew a young woman that literally saw them that way and the different numbers also had personalities to her. She was severely bi-polar and borderline autistic as well as having a genius IQ. I guess you could say she definitely had a different brain from most people.

      I also know of an autistic child that is psychic and can literally hear what other people are thinking. It's actually scary for her if she picks up on violent types out in public.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse |
    • wherever

      The answer is yes to both. Research has shown that while some synesthetes do base their colors on refrigerator magnets they had as a child, the tendency to make such an association is inborn. Lots of people had refrigerator magnets as a kid; only synesthetes retain those associations their whole life.

      November 20, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
  48. Juliet

    I have this. I also have spacial synesthesia, I see time in 3d space. I remember mentioning that I saw letters and numbers in color to a friend when I was around 8 or so and she laughed at me and said, "Um. Ok." Then I kept it quiet for the next twenty years until I found out about it online. I once read that it's thought to be a step up the evolutionary scale. It's always been of help to me, never hindered.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      I would agree with you, it's probably a step up.

      November 17, 2010 at 16:46 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      A lot of you are confusing association with this condition. I love how so few have this condition yet apparently everyone on this board does even though 5 minutes ago they were ignorant to its existence.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Don't know how that got posted under your comment! Sorry 😉

      November 17, 2010 at 17:06 | Report abuse |
  49. Chicka

    I have it too – didn't find out it had a name until I was 17, and some researcher kept asking me questions, and I was staring at him like he must be some kind of idiot...I've met plenty of people with it, and frankly I don't know how anyone can understand/play jazz without being able to "see" where the music is going. The whole Monet-Debussy friendship/exchange only happened because they could 'see' the same way with music. The only way I'm a bit more unusual than some other people I know with it, is that sound/color has 'taste' too. But that's it. I wouldn't be surprised if it were more like half the population has it, but never utilized it.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. cbott

    I do not associate colors with numbers or letters, but with pain. For example pain in my legs is red, migraine pain is electric pink, rash is a burnt umber. Would that be considered in the same genre?

    November 17, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      It might be. Sounds like you would be a good candidate for color healing if you live in a town big enough to have New Agers that know how to do it. Color, like anything else is a resonance. Color healing works to change the resonance of the disease, so if you are already associating your pain with color you would probably respond well to that type of treatment.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
    • wherever

      Yes, pain invoking color is a form of synesthesia. I have something similar, touch --> color.

      November 20, 2010 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
1 2 3

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.