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What is Synesthesia?

Synesthesia is a rare condition where two or more of a person’s senses are joined together.

This means that feeling something with one sense leads to a response from another one. So some synesthetes (people with synesthesia) see certain colours when they hear sounds, music and words, and other people experience tastes when they look at images or objects.

The most common form of synesthesia is connecting letters and numbers with particular colours. People who have this might think of the letter ‘M’ as blue, and the number ‘12’ as red. Some letters are the same colour whereas others are unique – it’s different for everyone.

Some synesthetes also see colours when they hear music, so a certain song could be black, while another is pale yellow, and a long symphony changes colour at different points. Musicians who have this experience often talk about liking songs because they are the right colour or disliking them because they’re an ugly shade.

Synesthesia is totally harmless, but it can cause problems! For example, some Synesthetes taste and smell things when they hear words and names. If hearing someone’s name leads to a nasty or unpleasant taste, this can make it difficult to be around that person. Some people might hate Tuesdays, because the word has a horrible smell.

Famous people throughout history who have synesthesia include the musicians Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Stevie Wonder, plus the artists Vincent Van Gogh, David Hockney and Edvard Munch.

Five facts about synesthesia

1) Synesthesia affects about 4% of people

2) Women are twice as likely as men to have the condition

3) The name comes from the Greek words ‘syn’ and ‘aesthesis’, and literally means ‘together feeling’

4) Synesthetes (people with synesthesia) are more likely to be left-handed than the rest of the population

5) Scientists aren’t completely sure what causes synesthesia, but they do think it runs in families