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 (285 Responses)
  1. Burbank

    I wig out electronics when I get near them on rare occassion. I was told that was a temporal lobe thing that happens with some people. I've actually gotten broken electronics to work with "laying on of hands" a couple of times in my life. Once with a broken TV, once with a completely dead car battery and once with a sewing machine.

    A street light will also suddenly go out or come one when I get near it, this happens on a somewhat regular basis, several times a week while I am driving around town. I have a friend with the same condition and once every street light went out in sucession as she drove past them for an entire mile. This was in Phoenix about 10 years ago.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leslie

      Look up FENG SHUI (pronounced feng shway) Books and books and books are written on the subject of placement, colors, textures, gender, numbers, seasons, height, age... Most of this is there. I don't know about taste. But the research goes back centuries. There are SO many sites right here on the internet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feng_shui

      August 25, 2016 at 20:52 | Report abuse |
  2. Shawn

    RELEASE THE TROLLS!

    November 17, 2010 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. C

    This is not a disorder. I attribute colors to numbers and I have my entire life. I have no idea why but it affects nothing, it's just how I vizualize numbers when I think of numbers. One is white. Two is orange. Three is green. Four is purple. Five is red. Six is blue. Seven if yellow. Eight is brown. Nine is green. Ten is black. I have always done the same thing with letter. A is white. B is red. C and D are brown. E is yellow. F, G & H are brown. I is blue. J is orange. K is brown. L & M are gray. N is gray or brown. O is white. P is green. Q is brown. R is green. S is yellow. T is red. U & V are gray. W is brown. X & Y are yellow. Z is brown. Maybe that's different and I've never verbalized this, but it's not a disorder.

    November 17, 2010 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      I agree, it's a difference, not a disorder.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:01 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      It's classified as a condition not a disorder.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      Thanks for letting us know the finer points. That makes more sense. Disorder makes it sound like something is wrong, it's not wrong just different.

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

      Joe, I saw your comment above about how people "suddenly" have it. I think what's happening here is that people don't normally mention it to anyone and have suddenly found a forum for it with this blog. YOu are seeing people comment that don't normally get into blogs at all here.

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

      I see what you are saying Burbank. I think a lot of people are confusing synesthesia with association though. When I studied synesthesia in college it was basically defined as a cross-blending of the senses, such as tasting sound, smelling a touch, etc. This whole color with numbers/gender, etc was not part of it because in that instance it's all within the "sight" spectrum so this is quite intriguing.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:35 | Report abuse |
  4. Grady

    Great to feel among company here. Not only have numbers and letters had gender for as long as I can remember, they have distinct personalities as well. My ex never quite understood what kind of woman capital Q was. 😛

    November 17, 2010 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      That's cute!

      November 17, 2010 at 17:16 | Report abuse |
    • Karisa

      x) Funny. To me, Q is a boy, but I'm with you on that one. My mom does NOT get how shy Q is o.o And she really doesn't understand how Q is octagon.

      November 20, 2010 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
  5. Lara

    I poured my 4th grade heart out in a poem and mentioned that the names John and Jane were blue. My teacher said it didn't make any sense and gave me a "C". I didn't mention color associations to anyone after that!

    November 17, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      That's too bad. It sounds like that teacher's sense of esthetics were plastic flowers and astroturf.

      November 17, 2010 at 17:06 | Report abuse |
  6. devin

    would it be the same thing if you smell things that take you back to places you've been or people you've known or is that just your brain remembering? i'm not trying to be dumb.

    November 17, 2010 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      Your sense of smell links directly to your unconscious (the part that controls your body functions), bypassing your subconscious. It's not the same thing since everyone has that ability, but that's how aroma therapy works, it's able to bypass the "disbelief" part of a person and work on the part that controls the body.

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

      I've heard for years that smell can trigger memory. If there is a picture of me somewhere outside as a young child, I can feel how it looked, smelled, felt. And I can smell the smells. That butterfly chair was a little frustrating at the age of 1/12 because I knew I couldn't get out. That red coat I was wearing while standing in the shadows on a cart was SO scratchy. I was 2. I hated it. The smell of sulfur was SO strong as I walked over a bridge with my dad holding my hand crossing by the colored pots in Yellowstone. I was 3 or 4. Smelt bad, but not too bad when I thought of the smell of a matchstick.

      August 25, 2016 at 20:16 | Report abuse |
  7. T

    This is so interesting! I also see letters being a particular gender and some letters with age along with gender A- male, B-female..... P- young woman, T- a woman in her 40's, I see something different for every letter...

    November 17, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. RabiaDiluvio

    I don't associate numbers with colors, but I associate words and ideas in a kind of spatial or geographical matrix. "Dissonance" is north of "strength" and west of "presumption." Sometimes with place names, there is a conflict between the location of the name and where I know the place to be geographically "Tennessee" is north of "Kentucky" but somewhere east of Purgtory and SSE of "Saudi Arabia". (I know where Tennesee and Kentucky are in relation to each other in reality.) It makes life a little interesting. Even when I am searching the web, individual sites have a sort of location or a combination of locations in varying depth. One email account is far to the left while another is sort of up and left...some sites are above , some below. I would not call this synesthesia per se, but it is a uniqueness that has made life interesting.

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

      Interesting. This sounds kinda sorta like the way I see things. What really stands out for me though is the way I perceive time. It's kind of like this strange film strip floating in space. Somewhere in the early 70's, around time I was born, the colors on the film strip become more vivid. Up until 1980 it floats vertically and then take a sharp right turn. It's generally horizontal until around 2000 when it takes about a 20 degree turn going up. All of it is to my left but when I visualize the future it all flips around and that's on my left. After about 6 months down the road, it fans out into a weird blur.

      November 17, 2010 at 18:20 | Report abuse |
    • Leslie

      I've read about some people seeing points, like what you are describing. My mother saw auras though her parents told he to not speak of it. Energetic children were red, social teen agers dark green. Spiritual people, purple or light purple. Dying, white. I asked what mine was and it's the only turquois I've seen on lists of associative colors and personalities. Shy. I don't think I was shy with my mother, but she would have seen me in different situations where I'd rightfully be called shy. I don't know what she thought light blue/green meant to her. Her mother, when in a bad mood had brownish orange mixed in to hers. She chose different color cups for her 5 children. Eldest, girl, pink. Then boy, green, Then boy yellow, then girl light blue(that would be me) then a girl, purple. I wish my mother were still with us so I could ask more.

      August 25, 2016 at 20:25 | Report abuse |
  9. Shepard

    That explains what the Rachnii queen was talking about.

    November 17, 2010 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Angela B

    For me, 1=white, 2=bluish, 3=green, 4=purple, 5=gold/orange, 6=brown, 7=yellow, 8=purple/green, 9=orange/red, 10=black.
    I consider 2,4, and 8 "feminine," although I didn't really think about it before reading this article. 3 and 5 are "male."

    I don't consider myself very creative, though!

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

      female = even numbers and male = odd numbers is an association often found in mythology

      November 17, 2010 at 17:35 | Report abuse |
  11. Deborah

    My 18 y/o daughter has synesthesia, I didn't know there was a name to it and I'm sure she didn't either! I found out when she was in 9th grade, she was struggling with algebra 😦 and in talking with her about it she told me she assigned colors with numbers....I believed her. Her dad didn't. Her best friend at the time also had it. I figured it was one more way she was creative, unique and she had that whole artsy thing going on! I believe it is also a step up the evolutionary scale, definitely not some form of high functioning autism. Has not hindered her at all!!! Thank you Elizabeth Landau for the great article.

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

      You said it has not hindered her at all and yet it made her struggle with algebra?!?!

      November 17, 2010 at 17:21 | Report abuse |
  12. The Dude

    I can do this if I eat some Shrooms.

    November 17, 2010 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark

      That made me wonder, so if "normal" people experience this on hallucinogens then are all of these people "on drugs"?

      November 17, 2010 at 17:23 | Report abuse |
  13. Bess

    I have always seen numbers as male or female. Stopped talking about it as a child because no one else seen this.
    At age 61 now I know what it is. I am also very creative and think in three dementions. I always saw things no one else could see. Now I have a name for it.

    November 17, 2010 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leslie

      In French, a pen is female and a pencil is mail... and so on and so on with Russian too. This is normal that a ship is female, a dog is male, a cat is female. In Russian, a window is neutral gender, as are keys to locks. Opera singers can have a golden voice. Now how long has That been going on? A very, very long time. Some people have written that if you practice it, everyone can see auras. Dunno about that. And the lists don't all match for meanings. My brother's dog died, and on that day, my mom saw white and knew what that meant. If you want to get into a lot of consistent meanings, study Feng Shui. Red is for love and for sex. Earth tones are one thing, Sky and air things another and a certain metal. Because of the heat of the oven, never make it stronger by adding tones of red, orange, or yellow, colors of heat. But of cool colors like blue and green and silver. The sinks and toilets represent what leaves the home and that means things like health and wealth. Truly, a tremendous amount of writings have been written of the mixes of these in Feng Shui. The bagwan lays out your home or geographic location. It's very important what you place on the southeast, different from the center or northwest. Shapes, sizes, textures, colors, age.. it all matters for peace or wealth or family. Same with your personal clothes, hair color... You've heard of people being winter colors, autumn, spring and summer colors. Skin having a huge effect on other colors. Winter.. deep red, true white and black.. like agent 009 and Elizabeth Taylor and anyone with dark black skin can wear riveting colors. Can wear deep deep red lipstick, nails and clothes. Spring is yellow, lime green, pastels. Think of Doris Day. Autumn is swarthy, not pink or rose colored faces, but you wear olive, pumpkin, lavender, (think fire smoke) associate with Indiana Jones. Beizhe, never white. White Soooo much written on it in Feng Shui.

      August 25, 2016 at 20:43 | Report abuse |
  14. Paul

    What I find most interesting is that this article says only 2% of the population have this "disease", yet nearly half of the comments on here are people telling they have it.

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

      You silly, silly person. These are the people attracted to the topic. Like bees and butterflies to flowers. Moths to a flame. Flies to dung. Robins to worms. Heh.

      August 25, 2016 at 20:45 | Report abuse |
  15. tracepace

    This phenomenon of synesthesia is thoroughly discussed with great detail in the book “The Man Who Tasted Shapes” by Richard E. Cytowic, MD, 1998. It’s a scholarly work, but still quite interesting for those who really want to get into the subject. And, he provides a Suggested Reading list in the back of the book for those who REALLY want to dig deeper.

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

    Perhaps it is more common...who really wants to admit to others they see letters/numbers as male or female or as a particular color? I have never told anyone this before as I figured they would think, "what a weirdo". ha ha

    November 17, 2010 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sealchan

    I would be interested to know whether those who have synesthesia have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or another Jung-derived personality test) and what their preference is on the intuition/sensation scale?

    November 17, 2010 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Tony

    When you trip on acid you will hear colors and vice versa. Seriously.

    November 17, 2010 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Sealchan

    When the eye-brain receives light in the visible spectrum the organization of the brain causes the light to be categorized into different colors based on discrete ranges of wavelengths. This is taking physical stimuli (light) that is only different in its wavelength and turning it into a finite array of qualitative aspects (colors). It is as odd as if we saw the amount of light which only differs in intensity (light to dark) and turned that into color. The human mind does this a lot, however. It takes a category of sensory information or even conceptual information and creates a finite array of significant qualities out of that. It is a way to create a short list of differences out of a range of experience that has a continuous difference too small to notice in detail (and too costly to the economy of neural resources or social dialog to distinguish). I call this the spectral array method of creating knowledge in the brain. These arrays are probably stored in the maps of the cortex and these maps sometimes bleed into each other in an individuals consciousness leading, in some cases, to poetic insight, strange associations or synesthesia perhaps.

    November 17, 2010 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. jdog

    I don't automatically see colors for each number, not unless I concentrate. I do, however, see genders in numbers almost all the time. Not sure if this is connected, but do any of you have intensely vivid memories? I am extremely detail oriented and can remember the most minute details about the past. For instance, my siblings will remind me of something from our childhood, and instead of just remembering the event, I can pinpoint smells, lighting, colors and types of clothing, what was on the coffee table, what we ate that night, etc. It's almost like I can relive the moment as if it's physically surrounding me. As soon as I recall one element of the occasion, one detail leads me to the next and the next and the next. And BTW, I would hardly call synesthesia a disability. If anything, it has enabled me to be successful in many creative capacities. It was effortless for me, as an American, to learn German, which may be related to this whole issue. German nouns have masculine, feminine and neutral distinctions that are, in part, based on biological gender; however, some genders are completely for grammatical purposes only (house is neutral, tree is masculine, cat is feminine). I wonder if those of German descent might be more likely to have synesthesia, perhaps due solely to the way our brains process language?? I now teach German at a top American university, which is my greatest achievement. I can also play several instruments and have a very sharp taste in music. Numbers are also very important to me, but I'll spare the details. I think I've just always been more right-brained...

    November 17, 2010 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Ana

    When I hear a loud noise at night I see a white color flashing at the same time. I thought everybody was like that.

    November 17, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark

      Me too. Exactly the same. Though the noise doesn't have to be loud. The flash just get's brighter depending on how loud the sound is. If I am asleep, sometimes the flash & sound will be sufficient to fully wake me, other times I will become more wakeful... to the point where I can choose whether to continue sleeping or wake up.

      November 19, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse |
    • Karisa

      When I'm doing something, generally on the computer, and suddenly there's a loud noise out of nowhere, I see a dark blue color with yellow and white streaks. I also think the letter P when this happens.

      November 19, 2010 at 21:20 | Report abuse |
  22. Robin Ferrari

    The Moody Blues, in"In Search of The Lost Chord" had a lyric that said "The Sound of a Colour, and The Light of a Sigh"over 30 years ago

    November 17, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Ana

    Actually, it makes sense. Both, sound and light are vibrations and your body interprets (translates) the vibrations to you.

    November 17, 2010 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sealchan

      The brain has literally adopted similar methods of taking light coming from two eyes and sound coming from two ears in order to produce a map of the external world that involves depth. But these two systems map to different regions of the cerebral cortex. However, if those two maps have more stimulatory interconnections then light and sound might tend to bleed together in one's conscious experience of either one.

      November 17, 2010 at 18:00 | Report abuse |
    • Sealchan

      ...and presumably with respect to Synesthesia at the hippocampus is one of those brain organs where cortical maps "come together"...

      November 17, 2010 at 18:01 | Report abuse |
  24. Chris

    I am a musician with some autism in the family. I have neither synesthesia nor perfect pitch, but they both intrigue me. Here is a line from a song I wrote:

    "The vision in its taste awaits, sweet music to your ears."

    Can you dig it?

    November 17, 2010 at 18:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Ana

    Anybody has an idea what the "thing" is that I see sometimes in front of my eyes (very often in the shower) that starts slowly, and becomes brighter and brighter, is round and consists of two halves, just like the symbol of yin and yang?

    I get that pretty often and I was wondering what that could be? Is it possible that this is what people see when they think they have a near death experience? Somebody told me, his wife gets these before a migraine attack. But mine is never followed by head ache.

    November 17, 2010 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ana

      Nobody?

      November 17, 2010 at 18:25 | Report abuse |
    • christine Payne-Towler

      There are forms of migraine that do not produce pain. It might be good to have this ruled out if you have other health irregularities that are rattling around in the background as well. Some symptoms you might never associate with these little interior visualizations are digestive upsets (frozen bowels and/or hysterical evacuation), motion sickness, light or smell sensitivity, sleep disturbance... just a thought.

      November 17, 2010 at 18:56 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Ana, I see this too, also most often in the shower. But it happens sometimes if I rub my eyes a certain way. In my case it looks more like a light-colored wide C, kind of like the logo for the Cincinnati Reds.

      November 17, 2010 at 18:57 | Report abuse |
    • Sealchan

      I'm guessing it could be something that happens like your blood pressure rises when your body temperature rises and this pressure causes a stimulus on your retina that turns into a split sphere image. Does it happen when you take a cold shower?

      One thing to know about your field of vision is that it is vertically split down the middle with the neurons from each half heading off to the hemisphere of the cortex opposite of that side of the field of vision. So this could be why the sphere you see is split in this way.

      November 17, 2010 at 18:59 | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      Haha Dave, yours is crocked LOL

      Christine and Sealchan, I just had a checkup and was told I am pretty healthy. No, it does not have to be cold water.

      I have a feeling this is what people who meditate talk about.... I think Dave and I are getting it without meditation. ??

      November 17, 2010 at 19:04 | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      Sealchan, it is interesting that I am NOT actually seeing it, because it is there whether I open or close any of my eyes. It seems to come from the inside ...

      November 17, 2010 at 19:06 | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      BTW, the reason why I think this is what people who meditate talk about is that it looks EXACTLY like the symbol of Yin and Yang. and it starts out with two dots first where the dots are in the symbol. Weird.

      November 17, 2010 at 19:16 | Report abuse |
  26. light and hungry

    all this time I thought I was trippin....

    November 17, 2010 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. trixen

    If you want to experience synesthesia, drop some acid and watch "Pink Floyd: The Wall." You'll see sounds and hear colors you never thought possible. 😉

    November 17, 2010 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. OhioGirl

    Interesting. I believe I only experience this in my dreams. I'm an engineer. If I go to bed too soon after working on a math problem, I dream about numbers and colors all night. I am restless struggling to match the right numbers with the colors, or trying to convince people the numbers go with colors. Plus the colors invoke strong emotions. The problems in my dreams may change, but it's always about the colors. Note - if I'm not doing math before bed, then I don't have the color/number/emotions dreams.

    November 17, 2010 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ana

      There is a certain yellow color that makes me start salivating LOL

      November 17, 2010 at 18:14 | Report abuse |
  29. Doc

    This should be one more reminder to all of us that our perception of reality is all in our heads. The whole world that you think you perceive outside your body is only the model of it that you have inside your brain. Physical reality may really be "there", but it bears only a passing resemblance to what you carry around in your nervous system.

    Not only is external reality much more than we perceive, it is sometimes not even accurately represented by what we do perceive. These new insights on synesthesia are interesting, but it was already clear that although synesthesic perceptions have no basis in reality, they can be useful - that's why they're there. I've heard many an anecdote about how these perceptions help with certain tasks. Even those who find their synesthesia irritating are probably somehow helped by it.

    Also, I read the discussion above about a reader referring to it as a "disorder". Perhaps technically it is. But if so, then so is perfect pitch. So is the ability to hit major league home runs. For that matter, so is the ability to write properly.

    November 17, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura in PDX

      It can be distracting, sure, and certain focusing tasks require developing some kind of blocking or setting aside ability. By middle school I remember needing to work that out so I could get things done more efficiently, but it's always there. Like long focus and short focusing your vision, task focus cuts through it to a great extent, but the majority of the time is synesthetic.

      November 17, 2010 at 23:32 | Report abuse |
  30. SierraShoo

    Frederick – Leo Lionni! http://www.randomhouse.com/kids/lionni/books/Frederick/101916/

    November 17, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Cleopaktra

    I associate certain names with colors for e.g. my husband's name brings the color purple to my mind.

    November 17, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. teresa

    i think this is a really cool disorder unless it renders the patient serious discomfort in handling it.

    i have this disorder or quirk, if you will: i am chemical sensitive to SMELLS... when someone walks by me with "their" preferred smell, whether it be hairspray, perfume or cologne, aftershave ... pictures kind of explode in my head of that persons life. maybe I am part dog? hmmmm.

    November 17, 2010 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ana

      If you see pictures of the person's life, you might be psychic. Just guessing.

      November 17, 2010 at 19:07 | Report abuse |
    • Leslie

      Now THAT I've never heard of. Fascinating. Worth researching. I've have to think about that when I choose a shampoo or perfume. There are a few sites in the internet about smell and personality.

      August 25, 2016 at 20:59 | Report abuse |
  33. boatvolt

    According to the Rolling Stones, there is also a sexual component to this condition...Google "She's a Rainbow"

    November 17, 2010 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sealchan

      There are entire languages which associate sex with words...

      November 17, 2010 at 19:00 | Report abuse |
  34. teresa

    dayum.... after reading all of our posts of people who have idiosycyncrasies ( sp*), we all sound nuts : ) self included.

    November 17, 2010 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leslie

      In Feng Shui: East The Azure Dragon (Spring equinox)—Niao (Bird 鳥), α Scorpionis

      South The Vermilion Bird (Summer solstice)—Huo (Fire 火), α Hydrae

      West The White Tiger (Autumn equinox)—Mǎo (Hair 毛), η Tauri (the Pleiades)

      North The Black Tortoise (Winter solstice)—Xū (Emptiness, Void 虛), α Aquarii, β Aquarii

      August 25, 2016 at 21:05 | Report abuse |
  35. Andrea M

    I've only experienced it through er...chemical assistance and boy was it fun then, but I suppose it could be a bit weird if it was permanent. My bestie has the naturally occurring variety and for him it's just normal and a silly little thing about him.

    November 17, 2010 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Noxlux

    Joe – 2% of the entire population has this condition. It would be safe to say that the blog population of this article would be significantly higher due to it being specialized. The people with tendencies to this condition would be attracted by the title, on top of the fact that the majority of people who post will have a personal experience related to convey. If you please, re-read the first paragraph of the article. It states that with some it may just be association and others it seems they see the color.
    It is not a "confusion with association" it *is* association.

    To me, colors have smells and tastes and vise versa. Any spoiled food smells brown. Fresh cut grass is yellow. Clean laundry is blue.
    I have perfect pitch and when I relax enough the music evokes thoughts of color.
    I love this forum!

    November 17, 2010 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Teresa

      How wonderful that you have colors for smells! I posted below about my experience, and it's so rare for me to see anything written about smells that have colors. Some fields with lots of weeds smell brown, but it doesn't always have to be a field. As I wrote in my previous post, the clear cassette tapes smell purple. I smelled something new a few months ago, a copper pipe that had some sort of (possibly) coolant in it that had been underground for *years*. I found it while digging up the building materials that the builder had just buried in the back yard 28 years ago. It was not a nice smell, and it was a different purple from cassette tapes. I don't like that a bad smell is purple, because I love purple, but what can you do?

      I don't consider myself to be creative in any way, shape, or form. 😦

      November 18, 2010 at 09:22 | Report abuse |
  37. DN3

    That's so funny that they would label this a condition or disorder in of itself. I've always associated numbers with colors but thought that it was simply a quirk of mine until I discovered that there is actually a name for this 'condition' and that other people experience it. I have a pretty good visual memory (not photographic) and I'm a musical person so maybe this Dutch professor is on to something. Mind you, I hope studies like these can actually be applied to medical science. Otherwise, they would be a waste of time and money.

    November 17, 2010 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. verify

    I don't think that I have an idiosyncrasy, but, if need be, I could 'play' a musical interpretation (say, on a keyboard) of a particular pain that I might be having. I'm sure anyone could do it. Imagine a high-pitched, piercing pain; or a sharp one, or a deep, throbbing one and their varying 'loudness'. It would be much more effective than the hazy 1-10 description.

    November 17, 2010 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Holly W

    How funny! I have always associated numbers and letters with colors – I just assumed everyone did that. Ya know, 1 is white, 2 is pink, 3 is green and so forth. Didn't know I was synesthetic. Hmmmm, I didn't seem to turn out very creative though. Bummer.

    November 17, 2010 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karisa

      O: 1 is white (mostly blue, but it is white sometimes), 2 is pink, and 3 is green for me. We're alike! ^^

      November 19, 2010 at 21:09 | Report abuse |
  40. agreen

    I am always so appreciative when I find out information like this. I thought the fact I assigned colors to things a strange quirk that added to my weirdness and sigularity. I've always considered myself a freak because I do these things others don't and they look at me weird when I see patterns in numbers or don't like Wednesdays (which are yellow). I also have a photographic memory and have excellent visual recall. Is anything of this connected? No idea, but it's fascinating to understand why I do the weird stuff I do.

    I'm also in a creative field.

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

    How can you have an article regarding synesthesia and not mention the effects of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, mescaline and psilocybin (magic mushrooms)? The very hallmark of a heavy psychedelic experience is the merging of the senses to the point where there is a oneness of sensory experience. Music and sound are seen, colors can be tasted and may exude different temperatures depending on where they are in the spectrum and something felt can produce visually accompanying images. I think with the new policies now allowing for more psychedelic research finally back in place, something such as LSD and/or mushroom-induced synesthesia, which can be an extremely profound experience, should be a subject on the top of the list of these new studies.

    November 17, 2010 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Mary

    I have a different kind of synesthesia: mixing sight with smells. Over the years, I have looked at a scene (either in a movie, on T.V. or in my "mind's eye") and smelled the scene for an instant. For example, a picture of a locker room brought the smell of dirty socks. The picture of a liver on a table in an autopsy room brought on the smell of raw liver! Usually the connection is related to a strong odor. It also happens more often when I am tired. Ten years ago, I asked a physician lecturing to our clinical medicine class about this connection. He just said, "Well, the brain is a gland." Since then, I've read quite a bit about synesthesia. It adds another dimension to perception!

    November 17, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Linda

    Not only do I associate numbers with particular colors and gender, I do the same with days of the week and months of the year, and other words as well. I've done this all my life, back as far as I can remember. Never knew it had a name or that it was a rare ability. I always assumed everyone did it.

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

      ...wish it rubbed off

      November 17, 2010 at 20:48 | Report abuse |
    • Karisa

      Me too! I always thought everyone saw the number 2 as light pink. It's a girl with a shy personality x) She despises 3 and loves 4.

      November 19, 2010 at 21:06 | Report abuse |
  44. Don

    This ability was featured in the now-cancelled TV show Heroes. The character named Emma had it.

    November 17, 2010 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. George B

    My girlfriend has been a longtime fan of Dr. Ramachandran – she finds smart guys sexy (a compliment for me too, I guess!) and we make a point of catching him whenever he's on TV. While watching a show where he was discussing synesthesia she turned to me and said "wait – you mean everyone else doesn't have colors on their numbers?" Turns out she's a synesthete but thought that was normal human perception. Now she knows that the number seven isn't a blue-green for most people 🙂

    November 17, 2010 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jenn

      fascinating stuff...there was a tv program on this subject on PBS years ago and I was just blown away...thought: maybe an evolution thingy that more of us are acquiring?? I hope so...I want to see Bach in colors (fireworks!)

      November 17, 2010 at 20:41 | Report abuse |
  46. Tina

    My friend always said tastes from food elicited a shape for him. Foods were round, smooth, edgy....interesting.

    November 17, 2010 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. 14401

    I see and sense colors around people. Helps me size up a person immediately. There are colors and shapes everywhere if you really look at objects. Close your eyes and imagine what colors numbers will be for you. Helps with math.

    November 17, 2010 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Joe from Ohio

    Just today I was telling a friend in my Nursing class how I associate colors to words, or days of the week ( Friday is Yellow, Monday is Red, Saturday is Blue) or some name of something is instantly a given color for some unknown reason and I can't think of it wihtout it being THAT color. When I see a name of a drug or a disease or a symptom, I see a color with it as well. So "Dopamine" is green for me, "Alpha" is yellow, "Morphine" is purple. It doesn't happen with numbers though, just names of things. Also, I have some relatives that may have a form of Autism. connection????

    November 17, 2010 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Joe from Ohio

    ...Also, with regards to there being a connection to being creative. I can draw REALLY WELL since 5 years old. I can pick up on anyone's way a speaking and also their subtle mannerisms, stance, walk quirks right away and so well that people( whom I decide to do it for) ask me to mimic other people quite often. I'm no Jim Carry but I can get anyone's "essence" down pat!

    November 17, 2010 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. C

    I find it interesting that even in a article published by CNN, they use the term "scientifically proven" when it is clearly a no-no in the field of psychology....oh well

    November 17, 2010 at 21:16 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4

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.