Causes, Types And Diagnosis Of Synesthesia

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you could see the number 8 as a color or saw a color when you heard a sound? Well, this is a real condition people in our society face today called synesthesia. Synesthesia is an uncommon neurological condition that happens when sensory pathways overlap causing different cognitive and visual effects varying from person to person as there are many different types. About 3-5 percent of our population face one of the 60-80 subtypes of synesthesia and lead normal lives. Factors that go into synesthesia are the biological basis, the diagnosis, and different types. This is different for every synesthete due to everyone experiencing different sensations because of the activity of neurons and synapses in the brain.

Although it isn’t fully understood, synesthesia is a genetic disorder that can be passed down from parents to offspring and is said to affect women more than men. There are different ideas on why synesthesia happens, some scientists believe it is the effect of cross- wiring in the brain. Typically, neurons and synapses that are supposed to be contained in the same sensory system will cross over to other sensory systems in the brain of a syntheste. It is hypothesized that as infants the neurons and synapses cross, but the pathways close as we grow during childhood. It is said that synesthesia can be formed after certain use of a drug such as LSD due to its psychedelic effects, because of sensory deprivation, or because of brain damage. In the brain of a naturally occuring synesthete, there are more connections in the sensory regions. The part of the brain that is thought to be responsible for synesthesia is the limbic system. The limbic system includes different brain structures that are primarily accountable for emotional responses. However, the cerebral cortex also has been shown to play an important role in synesthesia because there has been significant activity shown during synthetic moments. When colored- hearing synesthetes hear a certain word, activity is displayed in many parts of the visual cortex. This is due to the visual cortex being associated with processing color when a certain word is heard by a synesthete.

There is no established method for the diagnosis of synesthesia. Richard Cytowic, MD, who is a synesthesia researcher who put together guidelines in hopes of helping to provide a way of starting a diagnosis. Although the guidelines may help synesthetes, not everyone agrees with his research. Some synthetic perceptions include not intentionally thinking about the perceptions, as they just happen and are completely involuntary. Another synthetic perception is durable and generic. As an example, If you taste skittles everytime you hear Beethoven’s music, you must associate and taste skittles everytime you hear one of his pieces. Secondary synthetic perception is remembered by the synesthete over the primary perception. If a synesthete associates the color blue with a person named Jasmine, they will often remember the color over the actual name “Jasmine.” The perception of emotions will also play a factor in a synesthete, as the perception experiences can cause reactions such as pleasurable feelings and bring on other emotions.

The word synesthesia comes from the phrase “to perceive together.” Most people who have synesthesia often have two out of the 60-80 types. Grapheme-color synesthesia is the most common type of synesthesia. The effect of this type of synesthesia is when a synesthete perceives numbers or letter to be colored when either written down or visualized in the mind. Other forms of synesthesia involve smelling certain smells that they associate with hearing different noises, visualizing music as color in the air, tasting words, having certain textures develop different emotions, seeing sign language as a color, seeing a certain color when enduring pain, and feeling that time has a physical characteristic. According to Psychology Today, the condition of synesthesia has been proven to be more popular in writers, musicians, and artists as about 20-25 percent of these professions experience the condition. It has helped some music artists with their work and aided them to be more efficient and give a better insight.

Thinking of the effects synthestes go through such as tasting words, seeing music as colors, and feeling sounds may sound odd and almost unbelievable, but it is a reality for some people. Advancements in technology have helped researchers get a better understanding of this condition. Although this is an uncommon condition, the awareness for synesthesia has improved through technology and acknowledgement from singers and artists. 

16 August 2021
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