Have you ever tasted a word or smelled a color? The combination of the independent senses is known as synesthesia.Synesthesia is heritable a neurological condition that when one sense is activated, an unrelated sense is also triggered (Gross). Synesthesia is not considered a disorder, just a rare condition. This condition affects 1 in 2,000 people. According to Alina Bradford, 20-25% of creative artists such as writers and musicians have this condition (Bradford, 2017). It is also said that women are three times more likely to experience it than men in the United States. Those who are left handed are also more likely to experience synesthesia.
The most common form of synesthesia is seeing colored letters or numbers, this is called grapheme-color synesthesia. In grapheme-color synesthesia, it is the blending of two different regions of the brain working together (Synesthesia, 2017). Bradford describes other forms of synesthesia as smelling scents when hearing sounds, seeing music as colors, tasting words, and seeing a specific color when feeling pain (Bradford, 2017). There are multiple forms of this condition, which allows everyone to have a different experience. There are many famous people who experience synesthesia, specifically chromesthesia, such as Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Pharrell Williams, and Vincent Van Gogh. Chromesthesia is the form of synesthesia that allows people to see a color associated with a sound (Anderson, 2013). Another performer who experiences chromesthesia is Patrick Stump from the band, Fall Out Boy, as well as grapheme-color synesthesia (Elise, 2016).
According to the Los Angeles Times, other neurological disorders, such as schizophrenia, are also associated with abnormal communication between brain regions, similar to synesthesia (Dayton, 2012). While most synesthetes are “neurologically normal” according to Melissa Lee Phillips, schizophrenic patients can also experience similar symptoms. According to SchizLife, Anwar Sarhan, Haitham Jahrmi, and Michael T. Compton’s research study on the relationship between synesthesia and schizophrenia shows the similarities between the two. Their participants included chronic schizophrenia patients who were shown three presentations of objects which had colors while others did not. The results of this experiment showed that 73% of subjects saw colors, even when there weren’t colors present. This infers that synesthesia could be a marker of schizophrenia (Sarhan et. al, 2008).
Synesthesia could possibly be confused for schizophrenic hallucinations. Those who first experience synesthesia may be led to believe that they are “hallucinating”, but as told by Wikihow contributors, “what distinguishes true synesthesia experiences from hallucinations is that they are repeatable and predictable, not fanciful and random” (Wikihow, 2017). The way to differentiate between the two is that hallucinations are erratic, whereas synesthesia experiences are always consistent.
However, experiencing synesthesia is not always caused by schizophrenia. While some schizophrenic patients have this neurological condition, it is possible to experience synesthesia without having schizophrenia. Most individuals who have synesthesia are proud that they are able to experience the world in a unique way. Being able to see color while listening to music or to smell a certain scent when hearing a sound is rare, and those who are able to experience it pity those who don’t. According to Veronica Gross, it is only disturbing to synesthetes when a scent or sound creates an unpleasant synesthetic experience (Gross).
To hear more about what it is like living with synesthesia, click here.
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