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Synesthesia: Hearing Colors

by Ron Kurtus (updated 18 May 2023)

Synesthesia is a condition in which the real information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. A person may see colors when hearing a sound or may experience a smell when seeing a certain color.

Such a person is called a synesthete. There is much to be learned about this phenomenon.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Types of linked senses

The five major senses are sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. There may also be a 6th sense or psychic sense.

Experiencing colors

The most common form of synesthesia is the experience of colors linked to letters and numbers that they see, the sound of words or music, or smells and tastes.

Synesthetes that experience different colors when they see certain letters and numbers, experience the written language as a rush of color associations. Others may enjoy music or eating food as a colorful experience.

It is uncertain whether a person who experiences colors when seeing letters, hearing sounds, or smelling or tasting food will also experience the opposite effect when seeing various colors. This is an area for research.

Other experiences

There are some people who experience tastes or smells when seeing certain colors. It is uncertain if those people experience appropriate colors when smelling or tasting certain items.

Some people experience tastes when they hear certain words or sounds. It is not recorded if anyone hears sounds when tasting certain foods.

Evidence on other combination of senses is rare.

6th sense

Synesthetes sometimes report frequent experiences of déjà vu , clairvoyance, or precognitive dreams. It is not certain if these experiences are linked to another sense or triggered by another sense.


It is estimated that between 1 in 2000 people are synesthetes. Another estimate is 1 in 25,000. Many synesthetes are individuals of high intelligence. They often have excellent memories. There are more women synesthetes than men. A high proportion are left handed or ambidextrous. Some have trouble telling left from right and have a poor sense of direction. Others experience minor difficulties with mathematics.

Not crazy

Many people have thought they were hallucinating when they experienced synesthesia and have kept the experiences to themselves. But also, a number of brilliant people have also experienced synesthesia and let others know about it. There are now associations for synesthetes.

Brilliant people

Many brilliant people have been synesthetes, including:

Many who experience synesthesia assume that everyone else does too.

Caused in processing

Hearing words or music and seeing colors dance around is linking hearing with vision, but seeing letters of the alphabet as different colors is combining two areas of processing the information from one sense. This may indicate that synesthesia concerns how information is processed in the brain.

Synesthetes seems to have a different neural wiring than normal. Perhaps areas in the brain that process information are somehow overlapping in these people. It is also possible that more people than realize it has this capability. There are many expressions that mix sense and may indicate actual experiences. some examples are purple prose, sharp cheese, and bitter cold.

The reality and vividness that people experience are what make synesthesia so interesting in its violation of conventional perception.


Synesthesia is a linking of senses that seems to happen in a small percentage of the population. It is most often the experiencing of colors in association with other senses. It seems to be caused in the processing of information in the brain. There is much study needed to understand this phenomenon.

Be aware of the world around you

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Web sites

Everyday fantasia: The world of synesthesia - American Psychological Association

Some People Really Can Taste The Rainbow - National Public Radio

Synesthesia Research - University of Sussex (UK)

Synesthesia in Science and Technology - NIH Public Access paper

Synesthesia - Wikipedia

Synesthesia: a colorful word with a touching sound? - Frontiers in Psychology

Senses Resources


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Synesthesia: Hearing Colors

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