Synesthesia – Can We See Sounds?

Synesthesia is the phenomenon where one sensory input will produce a stimulus in another sense

Perception of The Senses

As humans we have five basic senses; sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. At any given time our brain is constantly processing information about its surrounding environment. As our brain is constantly registering information from these five senses, perception one sense activates a different sense. This is phenomenon is commonly known as synesthesia. This happens when the activation of one of our senses gives us the perception that a different sense was activated. For example, we might smell something every time we see a certain colour. Synesthesia can occur in up to 80 different combinations including our senses, numbers, different colours and smells.

In some cases, synesthesia can combine sight with hearing. Our vision of colours, patterns and motions can create the perception of sounds. This phenomenon is not rare, research suggests that everyone has at least a little bit of synesthesia. More severe cases can happen when the one sense triggers another in a negative way. A common negative case of synesthesia is misophonia, a subject we touched in one of our previous blog post. Misophonia can cause individuals to be uncomfortable, anxious or angry as a result of hearing a specific sound. Common examples are chewing, scratching, ticking, or paper rustling.

Do I have Synesthesia?

As a general rule, one’s synesthesia is genuine if the connection between the sound and color for example is stable and durable. In other words, if the same sound always creates the same colour association and you continue to make the same link days, weeks and years later.

Experiencing synesthesia can have its advantages. In 1968 a researcher studied an individual with exceptional memory. The researcher discovered that the individual could associate numbers and letters to colours and motions. Thus allowing him to remember lists of 50 numbers after just 3 minutes of studying!

It can be very difficult to find out if we have synesthesia as up to 80 combinations are possible. As far as seeing sounds, an easy way to test it is to watch TV on mute and see whether colours or motions makes you think a of specific sound. We have added a video clip that shows a silent animation of an electrical powerline thudding on the ground, if you concentrate on the video you might just hear it!