7 Different Variations of Synesthesia—an Amazing Condition That’s Common Among Autistics
If this crazy word, synesthesia, confuses you, you’re not alone! It refers to a rare condition in which one sensory experience or perceptual mode evokes a totally different sensory experience or perceptual mode. For example, synesthetes may be able to hear motion (that’s otherwise silent), see sounds, or taste emotions.
These experiences and blended senses are always consistent for each synesthete and are present throughout their entire lives. Many who have it don’t even realize what they’re experiencing is unusual until they learn about synesthesia!
Past research has indicated that autistic people are three times as likely as neurotypical people to have this crazy-cool condition. And while it’s, again, pretty rare, it also tends to be more common among women and those who are left-handed.
Photo: Flickr/Kristen Stacy
Also called ordinal-linguistic personification (OLP), a person with this fascinating type of synesthesia sees ordered sequences—such as numbers, the alphabet, days of the week, or months of the year—as having their own appearance or personality. For example, the letter “A” may be really sweet and even-tempered, whereas “B” is rude and curmudgeonly. And Monday? Well…
6. Grapheme-Color Synesthesia
By far the most common type of synesthesia, affecting more than 60 percent of synesthetes, grapheme-color is a condition in which letters of the alphabet or numbers have a distinct color to them. Grapheme-color synesthesia can be further broken down into two types. Some will literally see each letter and number as a specific color, whereas others will see the figures as black and white on paper but will have individual colors assigned to each one in their minds. The colors for each figure vary by person, but it’s not uncommon for there to be some similarities. For example, many grapheme-color synesthetes see “A” as being red.
Photo: Flickr/Jason Brennan
5. Number-Form Synesthesia
Those with this type of synesthesia see numbers as a sort of map or pattern. For example, the number one might start out to the left, two may dip down to the right, three may zigzag back to the left, etc. This one is a little confusing and is perhaps best understood when portrayed visually. Here is one number-form synesthete’s experience.
4. Sound-to-Color Synesthesia
Also called chromesthesia, this one is also common and pretty self-explanatory. For some, it’s triggered by general noises, whereas for others, it’s specifically triggered by musical notes. In any case, when sound-to-color synesthetes hear certain things, they see specific colors, often in the shape of simple, geometric figures like circles or squares. Like those with grapheme-color synesthesia, some may literally see these colors, whereas others will just see them in their heads.
Photo: Flickr/Carl Glover
3. Mirror-Touch Synesthesia
Imagine that you’re standing face-to-face with another person. The person in front of you reaches up and touches their nose with the tip of their finger. As their finger makes contact with their nose, you simultaneously feel a touch on your own nose—even though you haven’t moved a muscle. Alternatively, imagine you watch someone get punched in the stomach, and at that same time, you feel a blow to your own gut. This fascinating phenomenon is called mirror-touch synesthesia, in which a person experiences the sensation of another.
Photo: Flickr/Hernán Piñera
2. Hearing-Motion Synesthesia
Those with this type of synesthesia hear faint sounds in response to movements or visual flashes. According to one study, this type of synesthesia may actually be more common than we once thought; it affected 22 percent of a group of 40 synesthetes. There’s just one problem with this type of synesthesia: it’s possible that hearing movement can potentially block out other auditory stimuli—as in the kind that the rest of us can hear.
Photo: Adobe Stock/Tatiana Shepeleva
1. Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia
What do words taste like? Ask people with lexical-gustatory synesthesia, and they’ll be able to tell you…though of course, their answers will probably vary.
With this unique, extra rare condition, certain words and phonemes actually have a specific taste to them. Lexical-gustatory synesthetes may also perceive temperature or textureof the words they’re tasting. For example, one person with this type described the word “jail” as tasting like cold, hard bacon.
This leads me to wonder: if there’s a certain word that evokes the taste of chocolate for a synesthete, could that person say, think, or hear the word that evokes that sense and get their chocolate cravings satisfied? Or would hearing the word make them crave chocolate even more? If there are any scientists reading this, could you please look into this question? I think it merits some research!
Photo: Adobe Stock/Ocskay Mark