Synesthesia- do you have it?

Synesthesia - from the Ancient Greek σύν (syn), "together," and αἴσθησις (aisthēsis), "sensation" — is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (definition taken from Wikipedia)

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Studies show that anywhere between 1 on 20 to 1 in 20,000 people have this condition. (They really narrow it down! ;)

(image from national geographic)

During my sophomore year of college, I was sitting in my Public Speaking Class & our professor popped in a video of an example of an informative speech. The speaker in the video began with the question, "What color is the number five?" (I automatically answered "red" in my head.) He asked a series of questions that I instinctively answered. When he was finished with the questions, he said something like, "Now these questions but sound strange to you, but they are perfectly simple questions for a person with synesthesia to answer."

I'm thinking.. "Whaaaaaat?!"

And he goes on to explain the condition known as synethesia in which some people, called synesthetes, have a sensory connection between one or more of their senses. How these people can described certain numbers & colors in pitches and how others see a number & taste something or hear a note and see a color or smell something. I sat there looking around at the class, dumbfounded, because I had thought everyone felt this way about numbers & letters & colors & sounds. I was looking for nodding heads or some sign that others in the class identified with what the speaker was saying. nadda.

When the speach was over, I raised my hand & asked the class if anyone had those thoughts. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy and I was like, "I think I have this."

So I went home to my computer & started doing some research. It was mind-blowing to me becaue I'd always had these feelings and had never thought anything of them because I simply assumed that everyone felt certain colors when they looked at letters or numbers. Or associated personalities with them. Or felt certain pitches when they looked at things.

I went on to read that it if often genetic & can also be caused by LSD or serious head injuries. (And I've never done LSD or had a serious head injury ;)

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There are a couple of theories out there as to why people have it. One is that there is increased wiring between the senses of the synesthete which communicate with eachother & get blended into one another. The other is that everyone has this wiring but that in the normal brain, there's a balance that keeps these areas from talking.

There are over 20 different types of synesthesia & here are the ones I have:

"In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities." (wikipedia) I also associate a certain pitch with colors & letters & objects (it sort of goes hand in hand with the personalities) and there seems to be a sort of innate vibration in everything. (So a faster vibration, like in the color yellow, is higher pitched than say a gray-blue which is slow & lower.) Maybe this is why I like white so much?? No vibration, no pitch... it's just the baseline for all the others.

A high-pitched room from domino mag:

"Very little is known about the overall cognitive traits associated with synesthesia ... However, synesthetes may be more likely to participate in creative activities,[16] and some studies have suggested a correlation between synesthesia and creativity." (wikipedia)

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Anyway, my whole life I've always loved art: drawing, painting, singing, music. The problem was: I was not any good at any of them. Hahaha and I'm not just saying this. I could always color between the lines & make nice crafts, but I really couldn't create or make anything beautiful. Seriously, sometimes I would have this crazy urge (ok, like last year) to paint & when I try, it's just not good! :)

So anyway, I sort of view rooms as my canvas... My way of getting that creativity out. It wasn't until I found interior design that I truly felt like I had an outlet for my urges that actually looked good when I was finished.

(room by sarah tuttle for domino)

And rooms & interiors are also (like the rest of life) places where I feel vibrations & pitches & use color. So, I sort of wanted to explain this thing about me so you get where I'm coming from in certain posts. (This whole post started because I realized I was writing a post on the vibration and motion in a room & then realized it might not make sense without explaining the whole synesthesia thing.) Below, a very low-pitched room from House Beautiful:

For more info, here's a video on You Tube-

Now, my question is, does this make sense to any of you? (Because I've asked so many people I know & have had at least 2 friends who identified with it.) Do you think you have it?? What color is 5 to you???


Raina Cox said...

That is FASCINATING. I've heard of the condition, but never known anyone who has it.

Do you think it helps when designing or do you find it annoying? Do you strive for "perfect pitch" in a room?

P.S. Thanks for stopping by my place.

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

5 is red with a slight aura of royal blue...but five is mostly royal blue.

I have syneshesia too!!...posted about it a while back. Same as you I assumed EVERYBODY thought/saw this way...Then a friend saw an article in Scientific American and immediatly called me. I did lot's of research too. Did you know they used to put people in insane assylums that had it...back in the day?

Kindred spirits, eh??

Haven and Home said...

Orange. As I was reading your blog and you said what color is the number 5 I instantly just thought orange and didn't think anything about it. As I read on I am pretty sure I have some form of this, so fascinating, I never knew! All numbers have color to me and rooms definitely have pitches. Thanks for sharing this, it is so interesting!!!!

PS- I am in love with the room from House Beautiful, it is on my favorites list

LindsB said...

This is so interesting! You said 5, and I thought of I'm not sure if it was a totally shot in the dark or if it really means something. I've never really heard of this, but I'm going to do some research on it now- actually I'll prob. spend the rest of my work day reading up on it and doing no work :) I love learning somethign new, and this is by far the most interesting thing I've heard of in awhile! What an awesome post- thank you!!

Blog Author(s) said...

There have been several books written about it. I saw a fantastic documentary on cable in 1995. I think it is more common than people know. Congratulations to you. Five is absolutely red.

High-Heeled Foot in the door said...

Hmm this is so interesting. I've never heard of it before. Now I'm not really sure if I've ever experience just reading this had colors popping into my head in associations with numbers, but I'm not sure if I'm forcing it or not. I'll have to keep an eye on it and see.

I do however agree and feel that I experience high pitch and low pitch.

So interesting.

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

heee. I remember a documentary once where a bunch of synesthetes were arguing about the color of a day..No it's is NOT blue it is CLEARLY yellow...

Michelle said...

I guess I would see it as the brightest colour- since I think one and 10 would be on the other sides. Kinda keepin warm in the middle. Maybe because I just read it?

Never thought about this, but the way design principles of scale, line, emphasis (and others) are mixed, can be done in such a way that emotion is provoked.

Colour and shape, I find are always the strongest, and I would guess, give out the most energy or vibes.

Great post! It does explain allot of designer's idiosyncracies!

Anonymous said...

What a great post!

I had heard a piece on NPR about synesthesia but I had assumed it only had to do with color - I actually have always had a very strong correlation wth numbers, letters and gender and personalities! Perhaps that's what it is!

Thank you so much for posting, I'm going to start looking further in to this!

Maria Killam said...

Very interesting. I have a photographic memory when it comes to colour, when I'm shopoping for a client I'll buy something and won't really understand why (but I've learned to trust my intuition) until I get it to their house and find that it matches perfectly in a different spot I hadn't even consciously been thinking about, but it's perfect. I don't know if that counts but I'm always secretly amazed when that happens! Thanks for the fascinating post!

cotedetexas said...

I don't have this! boo!! I want it!!!!haha.

So interesting. I've read about this and see something on it one time on tv, it sounds wonderful! Lucky you!!

Lauren said...

Raina- I feel for me it's kind of just another sense... and I'm not so sure what it would be like without it in decorating. It doesn't ever interfere with things for me like some of the people I've heard of who must have it much stronger than I do. For a room's pitch, I totally go with what I'm feeling from the client. Sometimes I'm in the mood for high & sometimes I'm in the mood for low & I reaccessorize accordingly in my own home. (Usually once or twice a season :) yeah, I know, "too much time on her hands" hhahaha but it's really just something I need to do.

Marianne- go research it & let me know what you think! It's really common in our field (ok, more common than other fields)which is why I was thinking a few of you would respond that you had it! :)

Camila- yes! you get the pitches?!

Blog Author- Thanks for the link! So interesting!

Michelle, what you're sayihg totally make sense!

thecreme- yes! I totally have the personality thing too! (with colors & numbers) isn't it strange to learn??!

Colour Me Happy- You have a gift!! wow I'm not sure if it's the same thing but your clients must LOVE you!!!

Joni- hahaha

Lindsay- let me know what you find out!!


Things That Inspire said...

Wow - I don't have this, but found this post interesting.

I love the thought of you having all of this artistic energy inside of you, and finding a great way to let it all out!

Willow Decor said...

A children's book was recently written about this- its called "The Name of This Book is Secret" Buy it - its really cool that you have it and the book is sweet! You can read it to your children when they get older and it will explain a lot to them.

laney said... makes perfect sense to me...not only do numbers have colors...certain words...days of the week and months...have colors... and rooms ...even house extriors have pitches...

Lauren said...

It's pretty cool that you're all talking about this! My mom is a professor and in a cross curriculum type class that blended appreciation for the arts with aspects of science, her students studied this. She was pretty sure I could relate to a lot of it. I think mine relates more to the linguistics and personalities of things, but I totally had not considered it in relation to my design career! Duh! :) The vibrations thing totally makes sense to me, though I had never used those words to describe it. Yay, so nice to know that I'm not alone!
Also, (forever long comment, sorry) I used that HB dining room as major inspiration for my parents' house. It turned out to be very cozy, calm and quite. Great vibrations!

rhon said...

First, I just want to say that I really enjoy your blog--especially the "Real vs. "Kitsch" post. When my brother was a little boy he used to "play" colors and patterns on the piano for us. He later majored in Fine Art. And I know what you're talking about with the pitches--anything with orange is just screaming at me. When my first baby was born, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to decorate with those "loud" primary colors. I thought it would keep the baby awake!

Mridula Sharma said...

This is really interesting and I identify with many of the 'indicators'!But what really perplexes me is that when it comes to doing up my own place I am at a total loss to even come to the starting point. Its easy for me to suggest concepts to other people and make it work to their happiness but when it comes to my pad...I'm almost ashamed to admit that I haven't been able to get my act together in almost a year...any findings on that one;)!!!

megan blake said...

I really do see 5 as the color red. Three as a yellow perhaps. * seems like green. I've got that bug too. WHo here has chosen notebooks for classes in grade school and gave the Math the red notebook? Science obviously the green book? Religion (catholic school) got the blue book and history the yellow. Weird!

Anonymous said...

I think I have this too! I don't really have it the way you do.. Mine is slightly different.
There are only a few numbers that mean something to me. 12 is very nice; she is fuzzy and gold (like a fabric color gold; not like the metal).
The way I have it, if it really is a form of synesthesia, is throught sounds and smells. I can see music in my head. As it plays I see diffferent shapes and colors and patterns unfold in my mind. Classical music and songs by Santana have a strong effect. To a lessewr degree I see smells too. Garlic looks like several small angular dots surrounded by lines and spots; all evenly spaced.

Very interesting indeed ;)

Lizzytish said...

The number 5 is orange! And I do that with days of the week, too. Like Thursday is definitely purple. I don't do the pitch thing at all, though. Interesting! Thanks for writing about it!

yezenia said...

I must have ordinal linguistic synesthesia. I used to say I just made up stories about numbers having personalities, but really I just always knew them as such, I just didn't want to be any weirder than I already was. Anyway, I first learned this was a documented "thing" a couple of years ago when reading about a child prodigy composer. Sadly, I have no real creative talent, but I am glad to know that I am not the only person with this quirk, if only because it's so very interesting to know that the brain can be wired so differently from one person to the next.

Queen Mab said...

Sorry, but number 5 is CLEARLY light blue!
Your fan from Argentina, Violet

Unknown said...

I love love love the color in the HB dining room that you discuss in your sythesete piece. You said you used this dining room as inspiration for you parents home. Would you be willing to share the name of the color?
Thank you so much. I am enjoying your blog immensely. My friends and I discuss it all the time!! Heading to Luckett's this weekend...

Lauren said...


I'm so sorry, but I don't know the color!! :( I tried looking it up in House Beautiful but couldn't find the article becaue it's been so long I forgot who did it. Arg- I'm so sorry!! It's GORGEOUS isn't it?!!!

Might be heading to Lucketts next weekend too!! ;)


mrsben said...

To me, I see the number 5 as orange with a russet undertone. Do I have it; put it this way I have never paid much attention to it, but that's me. Actually I consider myself more sensitively accute to what is sometimes described as instinct, intuition, esp, etc. A whole different subject ..... which more often than not, can raise a few eyebrows! :)

Hopefully for the future generations in your family you will document/record your personal experience(s) with Synerthesia and continue to embrace it.

There is no denying it; the human brain is certainly a circuit of intricate wiring.

mrsben said...

P.S: Lauren so you do not think I am caught in some type of time-warp; I came by the way of Joni's (CDT) to log on to this page and decided to leave a comment (and read a few of yur earlier postings).

kim said...

oh my goodness i have it! and i have never known what in the world to make of it. thank you thank you for enlightening me. this is so intriguing. it makes me smile to know it is "real" and that other people have it too. great post!