Synesthetic Experiences – Involuntary & Consistent?

synesthesia involuntary consistentCurious as to whether or not you have synesthesia? Looking for a synesthesia test to validate your suspicions or put them to rest? That’s all well and good. While our test is still in development, there are a few litmus tests (or questions, rather) that you can ask yourself before moving forward. The first of which is: Are my synesthetic experiences involuntary and consistent? Now, I realize that this question is quite ambiguous (in that it can be interpreted in a few different ways), so we’ll use the rest of this blog post to define each of these terms and clear up any misconceptions. Let’s get to it!

Defining ‘Involuntary’

As there are two definitive elements to this question, we’ll address each individually. First up is the term ‘involuntary’. If experiences are involuntary, they aren’t a result of will, purposeful association, or mnemonic aptitude. In other words, you aren’t “trying” to experience or perceive something a certain way. Also, the experience usually isn’t one that’s naturally intuitive. For instance, if you associate the number ‘2’ with the letter ‘B’, it likely isn’t indicative of synesthesia. ‘B’ is the second letter in the alphabet; it only makes sense.

If, however, your experiences are triggered involuntarily (or by some external factor – separate from your own will), you may pass GO, collect $200, and spend it as you please. Maybe buy a loved one something nice for Valentine’s day – I don’t know; just an idea.

Defining ‘Consistent’

The consistency of your experiences can also be very telling. Neurologist and renowned synesthesia researcher, Richard Cytowic lists the following as one of the main criteria for identifying synesthesia: “Synesthetic percepts are consistent and generic.” The example that I use (probably too frequently) is the case of a true grapheme-color synesthete – for whom each letter in the alphabet triggers a given color in his or her mind’s eye. Now, each time the letter is physically seen, the synesthete perceives it as having one color – a color that is consistently and involuntarily associated with the particular letter. If the letter ‘A’ is red, it is always red. If ‘Z’ is yellow, it is always yellow. That’s consistency.

Since I’ve opened the ‘generic’ can, I’ll explain that, as well. The term ‘generic’ refers to percepts that are simple, rather than extravagant. For instance, when a given synesthete hears a certain tone, he or she might picture a black square in space. For another tone, perhaps an orange square is visualized. Notice the pattern? The shapes are simple, or generic – not grand visualizations of colors dancing around in harmony. While this concept has been disputed (and there are always exceptions), it’s certainly worth considering.

Moving Forward

Now that I’ve explained the question (or disambiguated it, if you will), ask yourself again: Are my synesthetic experiences involuntary and consistent? If not, well, you’re with the other 198 of us out of a 200 person sample size. If so, you might want to seek out more information about the condition. Either way, this is a great place to start.

If you enjoyed this post, please stop back! We’re in the process of developing an interactive test for synesthesia and would love it if you were around for its release! Follow us on Twitter for updates @SynesthesiaTest. Farewell, friends.

The Bouba-Kiki Effect – A Test for Synesthesia?

bouba kiki effectHey there, folks! How’s it going? Good? Good. Let’s begin by addressing the question posed in the title of this post. If you’re not familiar with The Bouba-Kiki Effect, bear with me. We’ll start with a basic explanation and move forward with some of the deeper implications. If you’ve ever searched for ‘synesthesia test’, ‘test for synesthesia’, or something similar, chances are that you’ve come across the Bouba-Kiki image (shown lower in this post): two distinct shapes – one Bouba, and one Kiki. Which is which, though? (Scroll down, look at the image, and decide for yourself.) Actually, there’s no correct answer. This image (coupled with the question of which is Kiki, and which is Bouba) is not so much a test for synesthesia as it is evidence of the fact that shapes are not necessarily named arbitrarily – an experiment first conducted in 1929 by psychologist Wolfgang Kohler (pictured above-left). Don’t leave yet, would-be synesthetes – his findings (and those of others who’ve done similar experiments since) are quite interesting.

The experiment, first conducted by Kohler on the island of Tenerife (whose occupants primarily speak Spanish), consisted of the psychologist showing subjects a picture of two figures (very similar to those shown below) and asking them which was named “takete” and which was named “baluba”. Interestingly enough, the results were overwhelmingly similar – the data revealing that the majority of test subjects assigned the name “takete” to the jagged, star-like shape (on the left) and “baluba” to the blobbish, rounded shape (on the right).

synesthesia mapping

Over a half a century later, in 2001, a nearly identical experiment was conducted by Vilayanur Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard – using the names “kiki” and “bouba” rather than “takete” and “baluba”. In using American college students and Tamil speakers in India as subjects, the two found that 95-98% assigned the name “bouba” to the rounded shape and “kiki” to the jagged. Pretty cool, huh? So, what are the implications? What does this have to do with having synesthesia?

Synesthesia-Like Mappings

Born from the original experiment (by Kohler) and those subsequent is the “Bouba-Kiki Effect” – a strong suggestion that the naming of objects (whatever those objects may be) is not entirely arbitrary. Instead, names may be derived from the way formations of specific sounds relate to the physical attributes of objects. This may sound confusing, and it probably is, but it’s also somewhat intuitive. For instance, in the case of our experiment, subjects may have been more inclined to assign the name “bouba” to the rounded shape because, when spoken, the pronunciation of that name requires a more rounded mouth. Similarly, the K sound in “kiki” is harder – more jagged, if you will. We’re just scratching the surface, obviously.

The connections drawn between the neurological condition of synesthesia and the Bouba-Kiki Effect are fairly obvious. In fact, the effect has been described as being representative of “synesthesia-like mappings” in the brain, where one sense has a steadfast, underlying connection to another. We’ve discussed personification previously, and for me, this concept of sound symbolism is just another gateway through which personalities can be assigned to and perceived from inanimate objects. Interesting – to say the least.

Test or Not a Test?

All things considered, I’d say that the Bouba-Kiki image (and question) is less of a synesthesia test, and more of an insightful look into the condition itself. For me, it’s affirmation that we all have a little synesthete in us. What do you think?

Daniel Tammet & Synesthesia

daniel tammet
From Scientific American

I recently came across one of the age-old (okay, perhaps not that old) documentaries that truly sparked my interest in synaesthesia (as it’s often spelled) and led (consequently) to the founding of Synesthesia Test. The video, called “Daniel Tammet – The Boy With The Incredible Brain”, showcases (appropriately enough) the incredible brain of one Daniel Tammet – a “high functioning autistic savant” from East London, England. To sort of set a benchmark as to his mind’s capabilities for the curious among you, Daniel once successfully recited the constant Pi (a circles circumference divided by its diameter) to 22,514 digits – a feat that took over five hours and ended on his own accord (not by mistake). He is also able to do seemingly impossible calculations in his head with incredible speed, as well as learn to speak and write new languages in around a week. If you watch the video series, which I’ve posted the first video to below, you’ll get to see the rest.

How does this relate to synesthesia, though? Good question. Interestingly enough, it has been proposed that synesthesia and savant syndrome are strongly linked. Daniel’s case is perhaps the quintessential example of this proposition. When Daniel envisions a number, for example, he sees a rather specific shape with a specific color, which usually invokes a specific feeling or emotion. If you watch the documentary, you’ll see that, when Daniel is undergoing various tests, he exhibits this as something that’s a real, natural function of his brain – rather than something that he “tries” to do.

A Synesthetic Landscape

One word that he uses quite frequently is “landscape”. When Tammet recites a number with numerable digits (Pi, for example), he sees a landscape that consists of the shapes that are representative of each integer. By making his way through the landscape in his mind, he is able to see (and recite) each digit in eerily perfect sequential order. Something else that’s relatively amazing – Daniel’s shape/color/emotion association doesn’t stop at digits (0-9); each integer from 0-10,000 has its own respective “symbol”. Pretty terrific, huh? While these tendencies aren’t necessarily indicative of any one type of synesthesia, we can certainly see some of the characteristics of a few of the common manifestations that we’ve discussed.

If you’re interested in learning more about Daniel Tammet and the experiences of those who have both synesthesia and savant syndrome, the video above is a great place to start. Furthermore, you can check out Tammet’s offical website – Optimnem, or either of his two books – Born on a Blue Day & Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind. I’ve heard both of the books are fantastic. That’s all for today, though! Stay tuned in the coming days for a post on some of the still-active online synesthesia tests! I look forward to seeing you, then!

Synesthesia Statistics

synesthesia statisticsHey there, ladies and gents! Welcome back! How’d that last synesthesia test go? This post will focus predominantly on synesthesia statistics, or the stats, percentages, and general facts that quantify the neurological condition. Let’s get goin’! First off, women and those who are predominantly left-handed make up the majority of the synethete population in the world. The female-to-male ratio is 3:1 (75%) in terms of the amount of synesthetes in the world. The condition itself is considered “rare” since only 1 in every 2000 people in the world have synesthesia. Another factor to consider is that considering that this condition is caused in the left-hemisphere of the brain, there is a drastic surplus of southpaws (left-handers) that have synesthetic experiences.

The Most Common Form

Statistically, the most common form of synesthesia is called color-graphemic synesthesia. With this particular condition, patients will notice that letters and numbers will be seen as different colors. There have been a total of over 60 different types of synesthesia in the world but there have only been a small amount of cases that have been thoroughly studied by medical professionals and scientists. With this particular condition, the intensity varies per patient and most of the time, patients aren’t aware that their perceptions are irregular.

Genetic Statistics Available?

There have been studies to see whether synesthesia is a genetic disease but there has been no proof of inheritance thus far (although synesthesia does run throughout families). See the video below from Dr. Jamie Ward and Go Cognitive to learn more about the genetics. People will also experience synesthetic symptoms if they have a stroke, are under the influence of psychedelic drugs (such as LSD) or during seizures. If synesthesia arises outside of a family unit it is labeled as adventitious synesthesia. This particular type of synesthesia is known to affect only sound, vision, touch, or hearing.

Those who experience synesthesia may notice that they have a superior memory. As per scientific studies and synesthesia statistics, synesthetes were tested with the Wechsler Memory Scale and they were placed within the superior range of the scale. Another benefit to the memory is that spatial locations of particular objects is remembered. Although memory increases, math and logic are two areas that can suffer with synesthetes, due to the fact that the condition occurs within the left hemisphere of the brain.

Now That You Know . . .

For those of you who know a synesthete: Now that you’re familiar with some of the basic statistics of synesthesia, does it make you appreciate your friend/acquaintance/relative that much more? It’s pretty crazy to think that 1 out of every 2000 people walking the streets is a synesthete. For me, it brings to mind one question: How many of these people actually know that their perceptions are irregular – that they have synesthesia. Now THAT would be an interesting statistic! Once again, thanks for tuning in!

Grapheme-Color Synesthesia Test Infographic

Hey there, folks! How’s it going? Today we have a special treat for all you bloggers, forum posters, and general Internet surfers who also have an interest in synesthesia. The infographic below (which we encourage you to share with the embed code provided), provides a brief synesthesia test for grapheme-color synesthesia – one of the most common types of the condition. While the test itself is pretty simple, we think that the graphic gives readers of various levels of understanding a general idea of what all grapheme-color synesthesia entails.

As this is our first infographic, we’d love to hear some feedback from our viewers! Also, please do share! All that we ask for in return is a link (to so that we can continue to increase our online exposure! And hey, if you happen to find that your perception of graphemes is on par with what we describe in the graphic, let us know! While it’s certainly not an official test for synesthesia, it’s a good place to start! Enjoy!


Feel like sharing? Awesome! Simply use the embed code provided below to insert this graphic on your own blog or forum!

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