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 (1,306 Responses)
  1. Internet Marketing Experts


    May 20, 2021 at 02:56 | Report abuse | Reply

    pay for homework online comparison essay help maths is fun homework help time function mapping in operations management

    May 20, 2021 at 04:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. combigan

    buy brimonidine combigan 5 ml

    May 20, 2021 at 05:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. SEO Marketing Specialist

    I really like it whenever people get together and share views. Great website, stick with it!


    May 20, 2021 at 08:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Local Marketing Agency

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your web site!


    May 20, 2021 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Social Media Marketing Agency

    Hello there, I do believe your website could possibly be having browser compatibility issues. Whenever I take a look at your site in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in IE, it's got some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Aside from that, excellent website!


    May 20, 2021 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. qnkPEORmRK

    reflection about community service cleaning 911 essay service primary homework help uk rivers western essay help

    May 20, 2021 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. rv air conditioning repair near me


    May 20, 2021 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. plastic water pipe

    Best Head Shops In Colorado Springs, Coloradopipe treeWe pride ourselves on being friendly and helpful, no matter what your needs or experience is. Come on in to just sit and relax, never the pressure sale or the hurry làm đẹp your mind mentality..


    May 20, 2021 at 23:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. RV Shower Los Angeles


    May 20, 2021 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. OmDfWREPsG

    community service experience essay buy essay primary homework help games math business plan pro best buy

    May 21, 2021 at 02:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Camera Riverside


    May 21, 2021 at 03:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. RV Bay Doors Los Angeles


    May 21, 2021 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. rv remodeling

    I was able to find good information from your blog posts.


    May 21, 2021 at 03:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. toy restoration near me


    May 21, 2021 at 06:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. 2010 Sprinter Seat Belt Buckle Repair


    May 21, 2021 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. bucket truck band

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I'll just bookmark this web site.


    May 21, 2021 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. seats near me

    This is a topic which is close to my heart... Many thanks! Where are your contact details though?


    May 21, 2021 at 09:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. rv body repair shops near me

    You have made some good points there. I checked on the web for more information about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this web site.


    May 21, 2021 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Bedroom Orange County

    I must thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site. I really hope to check out the same high-grade content from you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my very own blog now 😉


    May 21, 2021 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. paint shops around me


    May 21, 2021 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. VPwvDnXNbf

    custom writing worksheets preschool essay about service delivery in south africa bachelor thesis help help with history essay

    May 21, 2021 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Digital Marketing Company


    May 21, 2021 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Internet Marketing Company


    May 21, 2021 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Local Marketing Consultants


    May 21, 2021 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. rv a/c repair near me

    This site was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me. Thanks a lot!


    May 21, 2021 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Video Marketing Consultants

    This is a topic which is near to my heart... Thank you! Where are your contact details though?


    May 21, 2021 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. rv supplies orange county

    This is a topic that is near to my heart... Best wishes! Exactly where are your contact details though?


    May 21, 2021 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. RV Roof Los Angeles

    I could not resist commenting. Very well written!


    May 21, 2021 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. RV Center Los Angeles


    May 21, 2021 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. the truck shop orange


    May 21, 2021 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Digital Marketing Firm


    May 21, 2021 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. URvZA0PRDw

    295241 784701Glad to be one of numerous visitants on this awing web website : D. 425386

    May 22, 2021 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. horse trailer service near me


    May 22, 2021 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Content Marketing Service

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Thank you for providing this info.


    May 22, 2021 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Local Marketing Companies

    When I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service? Thank you!


    May 22, 2021 at 05:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. w88vn.biz

    Your style is unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from.
    Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I'll just book
    mark this site.

    May 22, 2021 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RV Alignment Orange County


    May 22, 2021 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RV Bedroom California

    You are so interesting! I don't suppose I've truly read through something like that before. So good to find another person with some genuine thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This web site is one thing that's needed on the internet, someone with some originality!


    May 22, 2021 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. rv repair service near me

    Great article. I am going through a few of these issues as well..


    May 22, 2021 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. bóng đá trực tiếp hôm nay

    Greate post. Keep posting such kind of information on your page.
    Im really impressed by your site.
    Hello there, You have done an excellent job. I'll certainly digg it and individually recommend to my friends.
    I'm confident they will be benefited from this site.

    May 22, 2021 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. seranganbalik.com

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the
    video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your
    intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us
    something enlightening to read?

    May 22, 2021 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. cyclomune

    cyclosporine pharmacology cyclosporine 100 mg

    May 23, 2021 at 04:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. cyclosporine

    cyclosporine emulsion drops cyclosporine pharmacology

    May 23, 2021 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Internet Marketing Companies Near Me


    May 23, 2021 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. RV Flooring Orange County


    May 23, 2021 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Tritreviewifind

    tadalafil blood pressure https://tadalafilww.com/ – where to buy generic cialis online safely tadalafil drug lowest price cialis tadalafil order online no prescription

    May 23, 2021 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. RV Cabinet Los Angeles

    This is a topic that's near to my heart... Best wishes! Where are your contact details though?


    May 23, 2021 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. bong datruc tiep

    cùng với trung tâm là màn so tài thân Man City vs Chelsea.|Giấy phép tin tức năng lượng điện tử số 2526/GP-TTĐT do Sở Thông tin và Truyền thông Hà Thành cấp cho. Thủ môn Alisson đã rơi nước mắt sau Khi làm bàn thắng đưa ra quyết định mang đến Liverpool trước West Brom nhằm nuôi nhận định real madrid kỳ vọng top 4 Ngoại hạng Anh. VTV.vn – Vào 23h00 tối nay, Wolfsburg sẽ tiếp đón Bayer Leverkusen vào khuôn khổ vòng đấu trước tiên của Bundesliga. HLV Tan Cheng Hoe cho biết, ông không quan tâm đến đến tác dụng đối cùng với tuyển Malaysia trong cuộc tranh vé đi tiếp trên bảng


    May 24, 2021 at 00:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. roof repairs near me

    I enjoy reading an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!


    May 24, 2021 at 01:39 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Leave a Reply to Bettie2


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.

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.