Synesthesia: Seeing Sounds and Hearing Colors

Author: Disabled World - Contact Details
Published: 2011/07/03 - Updated: 2023/09/12
Peer-Reviewed: N/A - Publication Type: Informative
On This Page: Summary - Main Article - About/Author

Synopsis: Synesthesia is a neurologically condition where people may see numbers or letters in color or see sounds and music there are over 60 types of synesthesia. Depending on the study, researchers have suggested 1 in 2,000 people have some form of synesthesia, while others have reported 1 in 300 or even as many as 1 in 23. One form of synesthesia, visual motion sound synesthesia, involves hearing sounds in response to visual motion and flicker.


Main Digest

Synesthesia (also spelled synaesthesia) is defined as a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Although often termed a "neurological condition," synesthesia is not listed in either the DSM-IV or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) since it most often does not interfere with normal daily functioning. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes. There are two overall forms of synesthesia: projecting synesthesia and associative synesthesia.

Some synesthetes often report that they were unaware their experiences were unusual until they realized other people did not have them, while others report feeling as if they had been keeping a secret their entire lives.

Synesthesia literally refers to the fact that in some animals, a stimulus in one sense modality involuntarily elicits a sensation/experience in another sense modality. An example of this would be the taste of lemon visually evoking the color blue. The elicited synesthetic experience does not replace the normal experience but instead always adds to it. Synesthetic elicitations are durable, consistent, and discrete, as noted by Dr. Cytowic.

Estimates for the number of people with synesthesia range from 1 in 200 to 1 in 100,000. There are probably many people who have the condition but do not realize what it is. Synesthesia runs strongly in families, but the precise mode of inheritance has yet to be ascertained. Synesthesia is also sometimes reported by individuals under the influence of psychedelic drugs, after a stroke, during a temporal lobe epilepsy seizure, or as a result of blindness or deafness.

For scientists, synesthesia presents an intriguing problem. Studies have confirmed that the phenomenon is biological, automatic and apparently unlearned, distinct from both hallucination and metaphor. The condition runs in families and is more common among women than men, researchers now know. But until recently, researchers could only speculate about the causes of synesthesia. Now, however, modern behavioral, brain-imaging and molecular genetic tools hold exciting promise for uncovering the mechanisms that drive synesthesia and researchers hope for better understanding how the brain normally organizes perception and cognition.

Article continues below image.
Picture illistrates how someone with synesthesia might perceive certain letters and numbers in colors.
Picture illistrates how someone with synesthesia might perceive certain letters and numbers in colors.

Types of Synesthesia

Over 60 types of synesthesia have been reported. In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme color synesthesia or color-graphemic 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.

In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1970 may be "farther away" than 1980), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map.

Yet another recently identified type, visual motion sound synesthesia, involves hearing sounds in response to visual motion and flicker.

Other Types of Synesthesia Include

  • Emotions - Colors
  • Emotion - Smell
  • Emotion - Flavor
  • Emotion - Pain
  • Emotion - Smell
  • Emotion - Temperature
  • Emotion - Touch
  • Flavors - Colors
  • Flavors - Sounds
  • Flavors - Temperatures
  • Flavors - Touch
  • General Sounds - Colors
  • Graphemes - Colors
  • Grapheme - Flavor
  • Kinetics - Colors
  • Kinetics - Sounds
  • Lexeme - Touch
  • Musical Notes - Colors
  • Musical Notes - Flavors
  • Musical Sounds - Colors
  • Odors - Colors
  • Orgasm - Colors
  • Pain - Colors
  • Pain - Flavor
  • Pain - Smell
  • Pain - Sound
  • Personalities - Smells
  • Personalities - Touch
  • Personalities - Colors (Auras)
  • Phoneme - Touch
  • Phoneme - Flavor
  • Phonemes - Colors
  • Smells - Flavor
  • Smells - Sounds
  • Smells - Temperatures
  • Smells - Touch
  • Sound - Flavors
  • Sounds - Kinetics
  • Sounds - Smells
  • Sound - Temperatures
  • Sound - Touch
  • Temperatures - Colors
  • Temperature - Flavors
  • Temperatures - Sounds
  • Time Units - Colors
  • Touch - Colors
  • Touch - Emotions
  • Touch - Flavors
  • Touch - Smell
  • Touch - Sounds
  • Touch - Temperatures
  • Vision - Flavors
  • Vision - Kinetics
  • Vision - Smells
  • Vision - Sounds
  • Vision - Temperatures
  • Vision - Touch

Neurologist Richard Cytowic identifies the following diagnostic criteria of synesthesia:


List of Famous People Who Have, or Had, Synesthesia

  • Allie Brosh
  • Amy Beach
  • Antoine d'Abbadie
  • Billy Joel
  • Brooks Kerr
  • Daniel Tammet
  • David Hockney
  • Duke Ellington
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Eugen Bleuler
  • Franz Liszt
  • Gyorgy Ligeti
  • Helene Grimaud
  • Ida Maria Borli Sivertsen
  • Itzhak Perlman
  • Jean Sibelius
  • Joachim Raff
  • Karl Robert Osten-Sacken
  • Kilford
  • Leonard Bernstein
  • Marina Diamandis
  • Marian McPartland
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Michael Torke
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
  • Olivier Messiaen
  • Patrick Stump
  • Pharrell Williams
  • Richard Feynman
  • Robyn Hitchcock
  • Rollo Armstrong
  • Sabriye Tenberken
  • Sam Endicott
  • Sir Robert Cailliau
  • Solomon Shereshevskii
  • Stephanie Morgenstern
  • Steve Aylett
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Stephanie Carswell
  • Tori Amos
  • Trash McSweeney
  • Vladimir Nabokov

Under Review - List of famous people who may have, or had, Synesthesia:

Synesthesia: Search for Genes with Ability to See Sounds : Study identifies specific chromosomal regions linked to auditory visual synaesthesia characterized by seeing colors in response to sounds.

vEAR: Why Do I Hear Silent Flashes When Viewing Animated Gif's? : Study shows around 20% of people show signs of a synaesthesia like phenomenon in which they hear silent flashes or movement called visually-evoked auditory response (vEAR).


Discover Related Topics

Share This Information To:
𝕏.com Facebook Reddit

Page Information, Citing and Disclaimer

Disabled World is an independent disability community founded in 2004 to provide disability news and information to people with disabilities, seniors, their family and/or carers. See our homepage for informative reviews, exclusive stories and how-tos. You can connect with us on social media such as and our Facebook page.

Permalink: <a href="">Synesthesia: Seeing Sounds and Hearing Colors</a>

Cite This Page (APA): Disabled World. (2011, July 3). Synesthesia: Seeing Sounds and Hearing Colors. Disabled World. Retrieved December 4, 2023 from

Disabled World provides general information only. Materials presented are never meant to substitute for qualified professional medical care. Any 3rd party offering or advertising does not constitute an endorsement.