Can you taste music? Do your numbers appear as colors? Do your senses blend?
Synaesthesia (US spelling synesthesia) is an inherited condition which causes unusual perceptions or associations, triggered by everyday activities like reading, speaking, or eating. For example, synaesthetes might perceive colours when listening to music, or tastes in the mouth when reading words. Synaesthesia has been linked to differences in white/grey matter structure, and can involve direct sensory crossing (e.g., sound to vision), or can be mediated by higher level functions such as language.
Some scientists believe that synesthesia results from “crossed-wiring” in the brain. They hypothesize that in synesthetes, neurons and synapses that are “supposed” to be contained within one sensory system cross to another sensory system. It is unclear why this might happen but some researchers believe that these crossed connections are present in everyone at birth, and only later are the connections refined. In some studies, infants respond to sensory stimuli in a way that researchers think may involve synesthetic perceptions. It is hypothesized by these researchers that many children have crossed connections and later lose them. Adult synesthetes may have simply retained these crossed connections.
It is unclear which parts of the brain are involved in synesthesia. Richard Cytowic’s research has led him to believe that the limbic system is primarily responsible for synesthetic experiences. The limbic system includes several brain structures primarily responsible for regulating our emotional responses. Other research, however, has shown significant activity in the cerebral cortex during synesthetic experiences. In fact, studies have shown a particularly interesting effect in the cortex: colored-hearing synesthetes have been shown to display activity in several areas of the visual cortex when they hear certain words. In particular, areas of the visual cortex associated with processing color are activated when the synesthetes hear words. Non-synesthetes do not show activity in these areas, even when asked to imagine colors or to associate certain colors with certain words.
Many researchers are interested in synesthesia because it may reveal something about human consciousness. One of the biggest mysteries in the study of consciousness is what is called the “binding problem.” No one knows how we bind all of our perceptions together into one complete whole. For example, when you hold a flower, you see the colors, you see its shape, you smell its scent, and you feel its texture. Your brain manages to bind all of these perceptions together into one concept of a flower. Synesthetes might have additional perceptions that add to their concept of a flower. Studying these perceptions may someday help us understand how we perceive our world.
Premiere April 6 9pmE
“What is Synesthesia?”
Tune in to this introductory show that is part of a brand new series on synesthesia. Sean Day, Ph.D. will introduce us to synesthesia–a neurological phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sense triggers an involuntary response of another sense, sometimes referred to as a “blending of the senses.” Find out why you may not have heard of synesthesia before, why many people who have synesthesia don’t know that they do (and don’t realize that others don’t), and the positive and negative aspects that synesthetes may encounter on a daily basis.
Sean A. Day, Ph.D., a multiple synesthete himself, has interacted with and done ethnological study of other synesthetes for over 35 years. In 1993, he started The Synesthesia List, an international e-mail forum for synesthetes and researchers. He assisted in founding the American Synesthesia Association, and has served as its President for the past ten years. He has published academic articles on the topic; consulted for books, television and films; and given presentations on the topic worldwide. Currently, he is on the faculty of Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina, where he teaches Anthropology.
Angela Eaton kicks off her new series with her first guest Sean A. Day, Ph.D., a multiple synesthete himself, has interacted with and done ethnological study of other synesthetes for over 35 years. He started The Synesthesia List, an international e-mail forum for synesthetes and researchers and assisted founding the American Synesthesia Association.
Part II – Synesthesia In Childhood
Angela’s second guest in the series is Dr. Julia Simner, Department of Psychology, The University of Edinburgh on January 29th. Dr Simner now runs the Synaesthesia & Sensory Integration Lab, where she examines cross-modal mappings in people with synaesthesia and in the population at large. Dr Simner is a cognitive neuropsychologist who studied in languages, language sciences and experimental psychology at the Universities of Paris/Sorbonne, Oxford, Toronto, and Sussex.
Synesthesia is an inherited condition which causes unusual perceptions or associations, triggered by everyday activities like reading, speaking, or eating. For example, synaesthetes might perceive colours when listening to music, or tastes in the mouth when reading words. Synaesthesia has been linked to differences in white/grey matter structure, and can involve direct sensory crossing (e.g., sound to vision), or can be mediated by higher level functions such as language. Her work examines the prevalence, cognition, perception, inheritence, neuroscience, aesthetics and history of synaesthesia. She also examines sensory integration in the general population, and how sensory perception influences language processing.
Watch her amazing video —- What is synesthesia
Listen to Dr Julia Simner’s incredible interview by clicking on the Blog Talk Radio box below