Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Tara. Tara Wonders, “What is synesthesia?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Tara!
Imagine listening to your favorite music. But instead of simply hearing the sounds you also see them as swirls of color in the air or you smell them as scents. Think about reading words or seeing certain colors and they have a particular taste.
Does that sound strange? It's certainly different than what most people experience. It's reality, however, for people with synesthesia.
Synesthesia is a neurological condition that affects the way the brain processes information. Instead of a stimulus affecting only one sense, the brain processes it so that a person experiences it as two or more senses at the same time.
For example, if one sense (such as hearing) is activated, other senses (such as taste or smell) get activated simultaneously. In fact, the word "synesthesia" comes from the Greek phrase that means "to perceive together."
Synesthesia isn't all that common. It only affects about 1 of every 2,000 people. Experts believe it affects more women than men, and it appears to happen much more frequently in people who are artists, writers, and musicians.
Many people with synesthesia have more than one type of the condition. Since any combination of senses can be involved, there could be as many as 60 to 80 different types of synesthesia.
The most common type of synesthesia appears to be grapheme-color synesthesia. This type of synesthesia involves letters and numbers being associated with specific colors or colorful patterns.
Other types of synesthesia include: smelling certain scents when hearing certain sounds; seeing music as colors in the air; tasting words; seeing sign language as colors; seeing a particular color when feeling pain; and believing certain textures cause certain emotions.
Synesthesia was first studied in the late 19th century. However, modern research by neuroscientists only began in the 1970s. Several theories have developed, but experts still don't fully understand synesthesia. Most experts now believe it does have a genetic component, though.