No, you did not read that wrong; to many around the world, it’s not uncommon for milk and cereal to taste like the color blue, for the word “college” to taste like sausage, or for a person’s name to be the color violet. This unusual pairing of the senses is called synesthesia, and affects around four percent of the entire population. While it might sound like a random, useless quirk of nature, the study of this unusual trait sheds some light on how closely we associate our senses with one another, and may even teach us a thing or two about how we can use color to boost memory and spark up some creativity.

How it Works

Synesthesia literally means “joint sensation”; as one sense is activated, another sense is triggered to complement it. Take for example graphemes, one of the most common forms of synesthesia. Here, written elements such as numbers, letters, and even punctuation marks seem to each have their own individual color; even when written in black, the number “2” could naturally be formed in the mind as the color green, and so on. These kinds of pairings are often established in childhood, and are attributed to hyper-connected neurons in the brain.

 

Synesthesia as a Creative Advantage

Much like photographic memory, synesthesia is a rare trait that comes with its own advantages. Synesthetes’ habit of combining the senses better allows them the ability to link seemingly unrelated things, a trait that is more than useful to those in the creative field. Chromesthesia, the translation of sound into color, is a perfect example. Great musicians have been proven to be synthesthetes, including legendary composer Franz Liszt, the piano man Billy Joel, and rapper Kanye West.  Duke Ellington would see a D note as dark blue, and a G as blue satin. Pharell describes his hit single “Happy”, as an orange-lemon. Even blind singer, Stevie Wonder, claims that music allows him to vividly visualize colors in his mind.

Stevie Wonder
Image from wikimedia
For starters, though many of us may not fit the medical definition, we are all synesthetes in our own right. See, the human brain is wired to link our senses together; it’s why we find nothing wrong with a young couple being “sweet” on a date, why one gets “green” with envy, why we don’t question Pocahontas when she tells us to paint with all the colors of the wind. It’s this web that makes life more interesting, and it’s a web we can take advantage of, because the fact of the matter is,

You Can Train Yourself to be Synesthetic

Or at least, researchers say, to some extent. By consciously associating two sensations into one joint sensation, your brain will start to build a stronger connection between the two senses, and may even start to subconsciously start to connect other senses to the developed joint sensation. Of the sensations, color, a simple, easily recognizable sensation, seems to be the best way to start.

Wait, Why Do I Want to be Synesthetic Again?

We’re wired to remember sensations more than anything.; color and emotion in particular are sensations that have a strong pull on our memory. Training yourself to be synesthetic by relating colors or taste to words on a textbook, could prove to be a serious memory-booster. Think of the classmate with a dozen highlighters of every hue at her disposal, or how some scientists say chewing the same flavor of gum while studying and taking a test will reap better results. This is creating more pathways between certain parts of your brain, strengthening the bond between these parts.

Notice how most fast food restaurants always seem to favor using red or red combined with yellow? The two colors stimulate appetite and leave one happy. What about this famous coffee place with their white logo against a laid-out background of subdued green? Green evokes nature, which suggests environmentalism. So by all means, paint your kitchen red when you need to gain weight. Go for a cool gray if you want to suppress that overactive appetite

Since synesthesia between two senses tends to get the other senses involved with each other, this makes for a very unusual, individualistic way of looking at the world since no two synesthetes are the same. What this allows for is unbridled creativity, a knack for coming up with something novel, the ability to create links between the most unlikely of things. In other words, it makes for a more colorful and fun, and the possibilities are endless.

Justin Gabriel Chua
Author

Justin is on his last year of Senior High School in the STEM strand. He is often found bothering the household with his ukulele or listening to music older than his grandparents. He loves good food and spending time with family, preferably both at the same time.

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