Imagine being able to look at this letter:
…and at the same time, also see it as this letter:
Around 1% of people experience this type of perception—a phenomenon known as synesthesia.
For example, certain words might smell a certain way, geometric shapes might have distinct flavors, or types of music might also appear to be specific colors.
Grapheme-color synesthesia is one of the more common forms. As in the example above, certain letters are also perceived as a related color.
Keep in mind that both perceptions happen simultaneously. The perceiver knows the “actual” color of A is black, but at the same time also sees A.
Synesthesia might be a bit like a super-power
Although the reasons why are not fully understood, it is undeniable that a large number of extraordinary thinkers, composers, writers, and other artists experience synesthesia in one form or another.
If nothing else, we know that people with synesthesia have superior memory.
It is likely that additional levels of perception create richer connections in the mind. If there are two different perceptions that you can use as cues to remember something, it should be easier to remember than with just one.
Synesthesia might be something you can acquire
A new study tested the possibility that people can be trained to experience synesthesia.
The researchers developed a 30-minute computerized training task intended to build mental associations between specific letters and colors (grapheme-color synesthesia).
After doing the task every day for a few weeks, most participants reported regularly having synesthetic experiences—that they can now actually see the colors that they learned to associate with specific letters.
The participants were given an IQ test at the beginning of the study, and again at the end of the study. Amazingly enough, their IQ scores increased an average of 12 points. Why? That’s still something of a mystery.
This is the first published research demonstrating that it might be possible to use cognitive training to expand the associations in our basic sense of perception, perhaps somehow increasing intelligence in the process. The possibilities are fascinating.
Think you might already be a synesthete? You can test yourself here.
Photo credit: All T