Auditory-Tactile Synesthesia

Auditory-tactile synesthesia (or hearing-touch synesthesia) is a rare sensory phenomenon where the affected individual experiences tactile sensations in response to sound. This can manifest in myriad ways. Auditory stimuli might cause a tingling sensation (sometimes discomforting), a localized pressure or tension, or, what some describe more generally as a “feeling.” The stimuli can range from classic rock tunes to movie sound effects to the enveloping tones of the world around you. This Quora thread provides some insight into these experiences through the lens of those affected.

Man with hand to ear

Link Between Hearing and Touch

What causes hearing-touch synesthesia? As is true of most forms, we posit that these experiences are fundamentally human—i.e., all of us have some capacity for encountering them. To more deeply understand how this applies to hearing-touch, we can look at some research: A Neural Link Between Feeling and Hearing (2012) by Ro, Ellmore, and Beauchamp. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I recommend that you read the full text (it’s quite manageable). We’ll focus on a key takeaway.

In this paper, the authors “show that there are extensive ipsilateral connections between the primary auditory cortex and the primary and secondary somatosensory regions in the human cerebral cortex.” Let’s unpack that a bit. “Ipsilateral” means something that affects the same side of the body, and “somatosensory” refers to the part of the nervous system that encompasses the sense of touch. With that, we have a neurological basis for the idea that an auditory stimulus can result in a tactile sensation. But that’s only half of it. Most interestingly, the paper includes an analysis of a patient (SR) who has acquired auditory-tactile synesthesia. This analysis finds that these ipsilateral connections are exaggerated in this patient, which is perhaps just what we’d expect. How cool is that?

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)

If you’re familiar with Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), you’ve likely already drawn the association here. This is an experience characterized chiefly by tingling on the surface of the skin, and like the phenomenon we’ve discussed so far, it can be caused by an audible stimulus. The experience, around which there has formed a vibrant online community, might be described as euphoric. Stimuli videos like the one below are plentiful on YouTube.

If you’re looking for a synesthesia test for this form and haven’t yet reached a conclusion based on the discussion so far, perhaps this is a place to start. How does your body respond to sounds like those in the video above? If you do experience a sensation, can you think of other circumstances where sound has triggered a similar feeling?

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I leave you with a playlist from YouTube user Aaron, a sound-touch synesthete whose primary stimulus is music. As always, feel free to leave comments describing your experiences. If you’ve read some of our other posts, you’ll know that—in the majority of cases—you are not alone in the theme of your perceptions. How do you experience auditory-tactile synesthesia?

6 Comments on “Auditory-Tactile Synesthesia”

    • by Leah

    Thank you for this information! I thought I was the only one with this type!

    Warm regards,

    Leah

    • by Cat

    I experience very mild ASMR, does this necessarily mean I have this type of synesthesia?

    Thanks in advance,

    Cat

    • by Cat

    I experience very mild ASMR, does this necessarily mean I have this type of synesthesia? I really would like to know.

    Thanks in advance,

    Cat

    • by Vini

    Is this why I hate high-pitched sounds? – I mean, some of them feel like my teeth are tingling and I have to take them off to clean and brush, but all I can do is to take the tingle by pressing one against the other as if I was chewing something; others are pain, like paper cuts, sharp stings and nausea (never loved the sopranos while I were in my choir days, especially when they were out of tune – they’re sharp, incisive, mean with stings) – I sweat sometimes for it feels so bad hearing it. Stuffy sounds bring such warmth sensations or even drowings, as if my mouth, throat, lungs were filled with water. I remember a person that made my body feel an electric current run through it as he spoke, and another that tickled, a lot, by just talking. “Oh, this girl talks like glass…” – it is easier to remember the feelings of a voice, on the first meeting, then the name of whoever has it. However, I don’t hear the girl talking when I look to any glass or touch it… But, her voice feels like it. And, probably, I wouldn’t hear the electric current guy if I bite an electric wire – I guess. Anyway, it is weird saying you don’t like a song because it feels like a bad texture or its stink burns your insides like sulphur, or makes you feel sad (even if it is a happy song – and you know that!).

    • by Sharon

    Travis, I am listening to the video and feeling relief (life long experiencing of sounds but never labeled as synesthesia) and I am intrigued by your experiences. I will take some time to explore this site.
    Beginning to explore the effects of sound sensitivity as a scientist I have a lot of question. E.g. can it be a significant reason for inflammation in the body, does it explain why some people have tinnitus and what are the benefits (It definitely makes me a more effective doctor).
    Any recommended starting places for additional research?
    Sharon Willingham MD

    • by Thea Ramsay

    I’m a blind, auditory/tactile synesthete, as well as emotion/tactile.
    I feel words as tactile objects. Some words are plastic, some metal, wood, or leather. But my favorite words are ‘th’ words. The soft ‘th’ like in ‘theater’ induces a feeling of ecstasy, as feathers touch my face, stroke my forehead, leg, or hand. The vocalized ‘th’ like in ‘that’ or ‘thee’ is fuzzy like pipe-cleaners. Hearing such sounds creates a sensation so real I react as if I’m being touched or stroked by these feathers, velvets, and furs.
    The feel of fur creates an ecstatic emotion, and the sound of the word ‘fur’, no matter its spelling or meaning, such as ‘fir’, induces an ecstatic cascade of furry hands petting the tar out of my face and forehead.
    It can be distracting, but it’s so lovely, I wish that everyone could feel like this. I wish I knew of foods or vitamin supplements that would increase it.
    If I lost my ‘textures’, especially the furry ones, life would feel a lot colder. The warm fuzzy sounds create a drugless euphoria I wish I could share with everyone, even my best friend, who swears she wouldn’t want it.

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