Most people don’t associate the color pink with the sound of a doorbell, or the smell of apple pie with the color purple, but for some these kinds of associations are common. Approximately 1% of the world’s population experiences the phenomena described as synesthesia, a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers the awareness of another. Neurologist Dr. Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., describes it as “the rare capacity to hear colors, taste shapes, or experience other equally startling sensory blendings.” A person with synesthesia may experience seeing the color yellow and smelling the scent of honey, or hearing the music note C sharp and seeing the color green. The form synesthesia that associates sound with color is called chromesthesia.
Hearing Colors or Picturing Hearing?
Chromesthesia is a form of synesthesia described as “color hearing.” A case study revealed that a person with chromesthesia will have a “visual color experience as well as an auditory sensation” when they hear a certain tone. In other words, the person will see sound as color. This occurrence is common for many artists.
The Art of Synesthesia
While synesthesia does have some drawbacks such as confusing your left with your right and difficulty with numbers, it has proven to be beneficial to many people, particularly artists. A study at the University of Bern in Switzerland states, “synesthesia may facilitate the expression of creativity.” The study also showed that synesthesia is consistently linked to art. Author Vladimir Nabokov, musician Billy Joel and hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams are a few examples of artist that experience synesthesia. Williams, who has chromothesia, describes it as an indispensable “gift” that allows him to make music. For him, hearing the music and visualizing the associated colors are essential to his creative process.
If you feel the need to enhance your hearing – or color – experience, Audicus is here to help.
Sources: Synesthesia: Phenomenology And Neuropsychology, WebPub at Allegheny College, A Case Study of a Chromesthetic, Sage Journals, University of Sussex Synaesthesia research, Institute of Psychology, University of Bern, Psychology Today