SYNESTHESIA: What it’s like to smell colours?

Imagine taking a sip of regular Cola, you experience a purplish fuzzy felt. Or imagine seeing a city’s skyline and you taste marshmallows.

If you have experienced this joined perception of your senses simultaneously, it basically means you might have synesthesia. This condition is when an individual experiences one sense simultaneously perceived by one or more additional senses. To better illustrate, a synesthetic person might see the word door to be in the colorred or the number 9 to be in color purple. Any combination of these senses – like touch, smell or sight – is possible.

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Lorde – a New Zealand singer and songwriter – recently raised awareness on synesthesia, which inspired to the birth of her new album called Melodrama. She reported that a particular color flashes into her mind when she plays a note on her keyboard.

The different types of synesthesia vary from Grapheme-colour synaesthesis (seeing letters or words in colour) to the more unusual Lexical-gustatory type (tasting words).

What is the cause?

Synesthesia is said to be a result of crossed-wiring in the brain. Scientists believed that crossed connections exist in the brain of everyone since birth but are then refined. This process is called Axonogenesis, which is a process that allows brain cells to wire to their counter parts. The hypothesis remains that these cross connections are normal in children, however adult who have synesthesia may simply have maintained the crossed connections as they grow old.

40% of individuals with synesthesia are related to a relative who has the same condition. Hence, scientists hypothesize that synesthesia is genetic as there is a solidarity on the genetic conditions of these people. Studies have found that families with synesthesia have different DNA variations but they all had enhanced genes involved in cell migration and axonogenesis. Hence, the result eventually proves that genetic transposition can alter and buffer our sensory experiences.

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