10 Types of Synesthesia (Examples, Causes, and Symptoms)

10 types of synesthesia feature imageWith so many types of synesthesia out there, it can be hard to understand exactly what it is.

That’s why it’s important to look at the word itself first: 

It shares a root with anesthesia. This word means “no sensation.” 

“Syn” means that something is joined or coupled together. Thus, synesthesia means the joining or coupling of two or more sensations. 

And because many different kinds of sensations can be joined, that’s why there are so many synesthesia types.

On this page, we’ll go through the definitions of each one. You’ll discover specific examples and interesting tidbits from scientific research. 

That way, you can leave with the fullest possible understanding of this condition. You might even be able to invoke it too using a resource I’ll share below. 

Let’s get started.

The 10 Types of Synesthesia (with Examples, Causes, and Symptoms)

In his book on the topic, neurologist Richard E. Cytowic states that approximately 4% of the population experience some form of synesthesia. 

Exactly how long people experience their synesthesia is unknown, but many seem to drift in and out of it.

In Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia, Cytowic and his co-authors David Eagleman and Dmitri Nabokov found that evolutionary pressures may shape when and for how long a synesthesia condition affects people. 

The condition also tends to be unidirectional. As they point out, a person might experience the letter J as blue. However, seeing blue does not cause them to think about the letter J or experience “J-ness.” 

Most forms of synesthesia belong roughly to what some people call “Projection Synesthesia.” That is, something in the brain causes their minds to project senses that aren’t there for the rest of us. Often they tend to involve colors.

So with these aspects in mind, let’s dig into as many types of synesthesia as we can. 

One: Colored Days of the Week

Here’s how Daniel Tammet discusses his birthday: 

born on a blue day

“I was born on January 31, 1979 — a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday, because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue.”

In his book, Born on a Blue Day: A Memoir of Aspergers and an Extraordinary Mind, Tamet says that Tuesday is a “warm color” and Thursday is “fuzzy.” 

This lack of specificity for some days of the week should remind us of the consistency issue raised by Cytowic. Or it’s possible that some days have substances for Tamet rather than colors.

Is this the same as associating numbers with colors. Not necessarily. For that we need to learn more about our next type.

Two: Grapheme Color Synesthesia

When you see or think about the letter “A,” does it have a color? For some people it does. Likewise with numbers.

Some people will read letters and numbers and see them as colors. Others with grapheme color synesthesia will see letters and numbers as black marks on white paper but think about them as colors. 

In The Frog Who Croaked Blue: Synesthesia and the Mixing of the Senses, Jamie Ward gives a list of letter-color associations from two research participants.

graphene color synesthesia example

It is interesting that different people experience these letters in different ways. This suggests just as much nurture in the development of this form of synesthesia as nature. 

Three: Chromesthesia

Chromesthesia, or colored hearing, means that the individual experiences colors connected with sounds. 

Researchers have found that sounds can trigger more than colors as well. A person with this condition might hear music and experience shapes, landscapes or textures. 

Composers who may have drawn upon this type of synesthesia include Franz Liszt and Jean Sibelius. 

Four: Ordinal Linguistic Personification

In this manifestation of synesthesia, the individual will experience numbers, days, months and multiple kinds of words and things as if they were people.

For example, the word “camping” might be experienced as having a gender and a tendency towards grumpiness. A stick on the street might seem to the individual as a happy young man. 

camping

In many ways, this synesthesia condition is a lot like how kids play with objects to keep themselves entertained.

Five: Mirror Touch

Imagine you see two people across the street shaking hands. But you don’t just see it. You feel it as if you were the one shaking hands. That’s what is meant by Mirror Touch synesthesia. 

In a two-year study by Charlotte A. Chun and Jean-Michel Hupé, these researchers found that many kinds of people with synesthesia experience this form. There was no way to predict which kinds of people might have this kind, but they did see some indication that French people were more likely to experience grapheme color synesthesia. 

Six: Spatial Sequence Synesthesia

There are at least two parts to Spatial Sequence Synesthesia, sometimes called “Number Form” synesthesia.

First, the person experiences numbers units as having distinct locations. For example, take an organizational unit like a calendar. Instead of thinking of February conceptually as a group of days, the person will experience it bound up with a location, or as if it had the qualities of a location. 

Mark Price and Jason Mattingly give an example of calendar drawings in Automaticity in sequence-space synaesthesia.

sequence space synesthesia example

Second, this unit will be experienced with references to other numbers, themselves located in space.

Jamie Ward asked a test participant to draw how she was experiencing Spatial Sequence Synesthesia. 

spatial sequence synesthesia example

As you can see, the participant not only has the numbers represented where they appear in space. She has indicated how she can rotate her point of view around their location. 

Another point: 

Part of experiencing this form of the condition might mean that people experience numbers “floating in space at a fixed distance from their body.”

Seven: Auditory-Tactile Synesthesia

Also called “Sound-Touch Synesthesia,” this form of the condition means that common sounds create physical sensations in the listener. These are typically described as “tingling” and may be intense enough to deeply disturb the individual.

Studies in people with thalamic lesions have shown that this part of the brain might be responsible for both physical and sound sensations. This area of knowledge is one place where knowing how to remember the cranial nerves could also be helpful because they contribute to some of our ability to perceive physical and auditory sensations.

Eight: Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia

Imagine tasting the words of this article as you read it.

That’s exactly what would be happening to you now if you had lexical-gustatory synesthesia. 

Researchers have found that amongst the few people who experience this condition, the experience is very intense but lacking in quality. Brain scans show that the parts of the brain involved in emotions light up, which may explain the magnitude of these experiences. 

brain scans

Sound-gustatory is much the same. However, in this case, the sense of taste is triggered by noises and auditory modulations in the person’s environment. 

We’ve talked about taste. What about smelling colors?

This too is something that happens to people with synesthesia, but seems much less common than some of the other types.

Although subjective feelings are involved in each of these, it’s hard to say if any of them amount to emotional synesthesia as a type on its own. More research needs to be done, some of which is being uncovered by those investigating our next type.

Nine: Misophonia Synesthesia

People with misophonia can be triggered to rage by everyday sounds. 

Researchers have not been able to find out much about it. Some conclude that many people fail to report their symptoms for fear of being stigmatized. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, ASMR has been all the rage over the past few years. Videos featuring all kinds of mundane sounds of racked up millions, if not billions of views on YouTube hoping to induce “auto sensory meridian response.” 

These are pleasant tingling sensations that come from listening to sounds like whispering voices, tapping, blowing bubbles or chewing gum. 

Ten: Ideaesthesia

Of these two images, which would you name Booba and which Kiki? 

booba kiki test for ideaethesia

Most native English speakers will name the image on the left Kiki and the image on the right Booba.

Why?

Because hard-K sounds are conceived as being similar to sharp angles. Softer B-sounds are generally perceived as more like the rounded drawing to the right. According to Derren Bridger, marketers have long known about this tendency and used it to help dream up product names.

Much more research needs to be done on this branch of synesthesia. It’s not yet clear if colors are also involved in how people might experience these conceptual approaches to linking sounds with shapes in a conceptual way.

Can You Give Yourself Synesthesia?

I don’t think so. And I hope you never harm your brain or develop a lesion that might come with unwanted effects just to experience synesthesia.

However, you certainly can increase your ability to experience the world in a multi sensory way. 

To give this a try for yourself, go through this hyperphantasia guided meditation:

In the meantime, I hope this rundown of the many different types of synesthesia helped you out. 

If there are any I missed, please pop them into the discussion area so we can all learn about them. And if you’d like to be able to memorize all of these different terms we discussed today, check out my FREE Memory Improvement Kit today

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

10 Responses to " 10 Types of Synesthesia (Examples, Causes, and Symptoms) "

  1. Ivar Haukelidsæter says:

    I listened to your podcast when I recognized my vision of the calendar as you described it. I made an attempt to draw it out but its a very poor image compared to what I experience when visualizing a year.

    I think I would describe it as a kind of terrain with a sinus curve, where i shift from a first and third person perspective. June is at the bottom and December is at the top, with a bump between New Years eve and Christmas.

    When I remember events from my past I often take a climb over to the past years, as they continue on backwards. I shift perspectives from long and short term planning, and zoom in and out. Its actually a really nice calendar, even though the drawing is minimalistic.

    Until last year I thought everyone saw their year like this, but when I asked around I found that most people saw a wheel or a regular calendar. I’m very grateful for having my own interesting perspective on the calendar, and that you brought my attention back to it in the podcast. As always, great content!

    • Thanks so much for this, Ivar. It’s fascinating that you experience calendars like this.

      What I find especially interesting is how you mention switching perspectives. That must be very helpful as a means of considering time from multiple angles.

      Do you think this kind of experience gives you an advantage with how you experience Memory Palaces when using this technique?

  2. Jason Y says:

    I have Aspergers and was diagnosed with something called acquired savant syndrome by Dr Darold Treffert. When people speak I see words in front of me starting close to my face and left and they fade away as they move away and to the right.

    This happens for all the languages I know except Arabic and Chinese. Arabic starts close to my face on the right and fades out to the left almost the same way its written and Chinese just appears dead center but further away than other languages. You may be wondering if I see the characters. No, I see the pinyin but not just the pinyin. The letters of the pinyin words are angular and curvy and I realized eventually I was seeing the tones as well.

    Years have a location as do months and days of the week. Mondays are down by my left hand and Wednesday is in front and above my head and the rest of the days then come back down and end with Sunday being down by my right leg. I was told I have synesthesia (fairly obvious to me now) but after a head injury it changed from just feeling like music was moving up and down and touching the front of my body to it being multicolored and almost psychedelic in nature. Classical produced very colorful amorphous cloud like photisms and things like heavy metal created often straight, angular and jagged lines.

    • Great to hear from you again, Jason. I think you mentioned to me at one point this was ticker tape synesthesia. It was the first time I’d heard that term.

      It’s interesting that it doesn’t happen to you with Arabic or Chinese and raises the question – what are the other languages you know?

      Also, how specifically is the pinyin displayed and how accurately? Are the tones displayed in numbers or in marks? And are they correct in each and every instance?

      Could I have you listen to a Chinese speaker and write down those tone numbers as they speak? Would it work just as well for someone from Beijing as for someone from Nanjing? In other words, how does it work with regional accents?

      That’s very interesting about music. What about country and western? Are there any differences in time periods, such as old Waylon Jennings versus some of the more pop-oriented country of today?

  3. Galen Graziano says:

    Hi Dr. Metivier!

    This is an excting article, because I often wondered why I was so good with sound, and after some research it seems like I have synesthesia! (I say seems because I don’t like to say I have anything with high certainty, but that’s just because it makes me nervous).

    But I noticed part of it in your article. I experience sound as a tactile thing, but words and names often take up space and movement. Or, the touch moves me to move, sort of like a dance?

    It’s hard for me to explain it exactly like a science, but that’s not all.

    My thoughts and feelings also seem to take up space, kind of like when you said in your lectures, “what does this room feel like conceptually?”. I can place where the voices in my head are, or my anxiety or other emotions, and distance myself from thoughts and spaces sort of like my own galaxy or flow chart. It’s a lot like a memory palace, but it’s just mofe spherical and pieces may float in and out of reach.

    After space and motion is clear, then tertiary senses like color and feeling, or personification tend to come in on their own. I’ve noticed numbers each have their own color too, but I don’t really control where they go so without a grasp of the space the words or sounds create, the colors are fairly useless because they get lost so easy.

    Sound is definitely my strongest suit.

    I’m curious what your thoughts are. Do you have synesthesia?

    Curious cat,

    Galen Graziano

    • This is fascinating, Galen.

      When you say that names take up space, can you say more about that?

      This might be very similar to what I experience. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been very aware of space, as if it were a sense of its own. I used to spend hours as a kid flying through the universe and it was very much as if I were spatially reaching the stars and could tell the distance between things.

      In any case, I don’t know if I have a type of synesthesia or not, but I’m strongly oriented towards space and sound, and they do strike me as the same thing in many ways.

      But in the case of music, it’s not unusual (I don’t think) to be able to feel “where” an instrument is in the mix. Or maybe it is unusual, but when I listen to music, all the instruments tend to have a specific location, as do ideas.

      • Galen Graziano says:

        Sure, names sort of feel like dance moves (best way I can describe it). “Randy” for example is super annoying, and it looks like a squatted shuffle/slide from right to left, ending with a stomp from the right foot, and is primarily blue and black.

        “Holly” is curious because it’s bright yellowish-white with subtle yellow-green, and it moves up with a forward rolling motion the closer one gets to the top. I find it most comparable to blowing some air up onto the bottom of a leaf and then letting the air dissipate.

        • That is super-fascinating, Galen.

          An interesting exercise would be to apply these experiences with names to memorizing them. You might have a special benefit over those of us who need to use raw mnemonics.

  4. Ella says:

    This is great. I’ve been included in several studies of synesthesia (a curse or benefit of growing up close to both Hopkins and NIH) but they never took the time to explain to us, as far as I know, what types of synesthesia we were explaining, etc. I also got some weird looks from time to time which I interpreted as them not believing me, but I was young – so who knows?

    Couple of questions:

    Chromesthesia — I associate literally almost every sound I hear with both texture and color. This can be a little distracting because certain voices saying certain words or at certain ends of their speaking spectrum are forever rain-cloudy gray etc. It’s hard not to see the person that way. Moreover, not infrequently with sounds that seem particularly “big” for lack of a better word, I will not just see color or taste the sound or feel a texture, along with those things, I sometimes immediately attach some an object (or at least a material – that’s a better way to put it) with even a specific thing that meets those conditions: for instance, I’ve said “this sounds like tree bark” or “My mom had a dress that sounded like this” (because it sometimes goes in the opposite direction too.)

    Auditory-Tactile Synesthesia I get the tingling but also sometimes a rush of warmth or cold, sometimes even a burning sensation. Sometimes it’s localized and sometimes it covers my whole body (like a wash of light or something) – is this normal? Is it something different?

    I can also smell and touch colors and sounds and some words too — what is this called? Is it some type of cousin to Sound-gustatory Synesthesia, which I also experience?

    I can taste almost everything before I eat it. I’m sometimes quite shocked when the actual taste butts up against my idea of what it “really tastes like”.

    Anyway, thanks for the information!

    • Great to hear from you, Ella, and how fascinating about your history with these studies.

      The more I learn about human psychology, the less I know what “normal” means. I’m not sure such a state exists.

      I also have this “before” taste effect, but I’ve read that this is normal. In fact, there’s some research showing that with things like coffee, the body will already start producing dopamine before the coffee has a chance to produce it.

      Ah, I can smell and taste my morning dose here in Australia coming soon! 🙂

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