Synesthetes! Here's The Science Behind The Color Of What You Hear

First Posted: Apr 14, 2015 04:48 PM EDT

People with Synesthesia perceive their environment a little differently than others. The sound of a song may be presented in a bright violet, along with letters and figures that could come with genders or even personality types. Tastes, too.

In fact, theoretically, every sense can be coupled with something else. But in no way is this the product of hallucination. Rather, it is the enhancement of neural connections throughout the brain.

Researchers at the Australian National University found stronger mental associations between related concepts in people affected by Synesthesia that might affect hearing colors, seeing sounds and other cross-sensory phenomena that may explain some of the related mysteries.

"For them words like 'doctor' and 'nurse' are very closely associated, where 'doctor' and 'table' are very unrelated. Much more so than for people without the condition," Dr. Stephanie Goodhew, lead researcher of the study, said in a news release.

The findings could help researchers better understand the mysteries of Synesthesia, which Dr. Goodhew said affects an estimated one in every 100 people.

She noted that many dealing with the issue have stronger connections between different brain areas, particularly those that connect the language center to the color part of the brain. These connections tend to lead to a trigger effect that produces stimulus in one part of the brain that may be responsible for activity in another.

"Things like hearing shapes, so a triangle will trigger an experience of a sound or a color, or they might have a specific taste sensation when they hear a particular sound," she added. "One person reported that smells have certain shapes. For example the smell of fresh air is rectangular, coffee is a bubbly cloud shape and people could smell round or square."

More specifically, the researchers centered on the extent to which individuals with Synesthesia place connections between words.

"Going in we were actually predicting that synesthetes might have a more concrete style of thinking that does not emphasize conceptual-level relations between stimuli, given that they have very rigid pairings between sensory experiences.

"We found exactly the opposite," she concluded.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal Consciousness and Cognition

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