The first person to discover my secret was my brother. During our monthly catch-up session over the phone, I told him “You know that tingly feeling you get when you here an animated or mystifying story…like the words are massaging your brain?”

“Uh…what? What’s wrong with you? What have you been drinking?,” I could see his face scrunch up as the words came out of his mouth.

At 20, I don’t know why I suddenly felt compelled to share the intense sensations I felt when I heard sounds, or question why I saw colors when I saw certain objects or words.  To some extent, I perhaps assumed everyone felt similar sensations when interacting with the world around them. In fact, my senses are so aroused and reactions so intense, it is hard to imagine that most people are oblivious to sounds, words and objects they see and touch everyday.

Yet another person to discard my ‘crazy visions’, I went back into my shell and didn’t share the vibrant colors and sounds I often felt. Until a few months later when I got a phone call from my brother saying that a new colleague in his office was animatedly talking about how he saw blue butterflies flutter around his head every time his phone rang.

I’ll never forget the thrill I felt hearing that I wasn’t the only one. It felt like I was flying…to know there were others who experienced a world as vivid as mine!

I soon learnt that this phenomenon I had been experiencing all my life wasn’t as unheard of as I’d thought. It even had a medical name – synesthesia. Bearing Greek roots, the words means “joined sensation” (‘syn’ = together, ‘esthesi’ = sensation).

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more senses. Another form of synesthesia joins objects

such as shapes, letters, numbers, or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor.

Looking back, I vividly remember how I associated numbers with colors during my school days. While the number 3 was red, 6 was maroon. I recall my teachers getting irritated with me because I always seemed to talk about art during my math lessons. It was pretty helpful though…the association with colors helped me remember number sequences.

Other instances of when my senses seem to become tangible are when I hear certain sounds or taste certain foods. For example, the smell or taste of any sour foods, especially lime or sour candy create an explosion of yellow tingly fireworks in my head.

At 30, ten years after I have publicly acknowledged my condition of synesthesia, I have learnt to further appreciate it even cherish each feeling. To further understand the reason behind its occurrence, I have visited various doctors along the way. In one of my recent encounters, a doctor even requested to have further meetings with me in order to understand the neurological components of my brain. Through understanding the wiring of a synesthete’s brain, he hopes that he and his team of scientists can find clues to causes of disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia…I am anxiously excited to see where this may go!

While the experience is positive for the most part, synesthesia can sometimes be an obstacle, and I have had multiple unpleasant encounters. But I see this like how a ‘normal’ person might experience a foul odor – a person with a sense of smell often gags at the stench of sewage or vomit. Similarly, a number of synesthetes have unpleasant visuals or sensations.

But don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my synesthesia for anything. The idea that each of us perceives reality in such different ways intrigues me.  In fact I sometimes even crave the experience of a new sensation – I never know what new visual or reaction might arise when I hear a new voice or taste a new type of food.



Planning the next 4 weeks

Despite reading various articles and seeing various videos, I am still slightly unsure about which path I want to take – whether I want to focus my research on using color as therapy for illnesses or further investigating synesthests’ experiences in daily life. Both topics are fascinating.

Over the next four weeks, I will continue to look for articles and videos that relate to my topic and hopefully narrow down my research topic.

In the mean time, I have compiled  a list of people I can interview to gain more information about the subject matter:

  • Talking to Reshma Stafford, a psychologist based in New Jersey – I could ask her what she knows about psychology of color & if she has ever dealt with patients who have synesthesia. While synesthesia is not a disorder by itself, perhaps people have felt shunned from society for being different
  • Design some sort of experiment where I can observe people’s subconscious reactions to different colors
  • Talk to design professionals (here at The New School as well as my high school art teachers) about color psychology & art therapy
  • Joanne Pereira – my high school art teacher based in Dubai. She currently works with Jam Jar, a creative space that provides free canvases and paints for the public. It makes art accessibly to all by creating a platform for dialogue and interaction to an array of individuals. Pereira could perhaps throw light on how the public interacts with art, and whether she has observed a change in children’s behaviour (the primary clients)
  • Try and find people who have synesthesia, in order to understand their experience better. Through word of mouth, I hope to find at least a few people in New York City who come forth to be interviewed
  • Pooja Varier – Pooja is a high school friend of mine who is soon obtaining her undergraduate degree in Psychology this June. I will email her and ask her if she has come across any readings on this topic, or if she has heard of interesting scenarios that may help my research

Reading between the colors [02/15 – 02/22]

Below are 3 readings which I think will be beneficial to my research. The two books are ones I found online. While I haven’t read the entire books, the several pages I read were informative.

Dayton , Lily. “The blended senses of synesthesia.” Los Angeles Times

The Blended senses of Synesthesia

The newspaper article discusses the experiences of synesthetes as they taste numbers, feel colors or have other sensations triggered by sensations. On a more interesting note, it states that scientists today are studying the brains of synesthetes, whose condition may provide clues for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia. Like synesthesia, many neurological disorders have been linked to abnormal communication between brain regions; scientists are trying to understand “how a different activity pattern in (the) brain can change the way (one) perceives reality.”

Kargare, Audrey. Color & Personality

In this book, Dr. Audrey Kargere deals with the various psychological aspects of color, its effects on personality, relationship to music as well as practical applications in fashion, art and outdoor and indoor decoration. Dr. Kargere goes on to explain how color may even positively or negatively affect illnesses as sever as cancer. She outlines ways to use color as a value adjunct to fuller living

Malchiodi, Cathy A. Breaking the silence: art therapy with children from violent homes

In her book, Cathy Malchiodi recognizes the role of art and play as critical tools that facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of various disorders amongst children. Her book is a useful tool for both trained and untrained professionals who seek to assists children in crisis, especially those who come from violent homes and/or who live in homeless shelters.

Videos on synesthesia [viewed between 02/15 – 02/22

Over the 1 week, I came across various videos about synesthesia & color therapy on YouTube & Ted Talks…Below are 3 videos on synesthesia that interested me.

This documentary about synesthesia is directed by Jonathan Fowler. Various synesthetes of different ages have been interviewed, and each states their experiences.

In Terri Timely’s short film, two Asian boys are portrayed with a different kind of synesthesia. The young boy sitting on the floor perceives smells as colors – as he smells each record, he states what color it smells like. The other boy perceives taste a sound – he ‘listens’ to the different foods he interacts with. The items that come out of the large speakers indicate how sound can be perceived as different colors, shapes or textures.

Ted Ideas Worth Spreading: All kinds of minds

In this TED Talk, Daniel Tammet, a lingual, numerical and visual synesthete shares his art and passion for languages into his beautiful mind. He talks and displays his perception of words, numbers and colors to the audience, helping them understand the way a synesthete perceives the world.

Initial doodles

Do you feel anxious in a yellow room? Does the color blue make you feel calm and relaxed? Do you see the color purple when you read the number 3? Can you feel voices in your head?

Color is a powerful communication tool, and can evoke moods and feelings. The psychological power of color is fascinating, and is something I wish to further investigate. Color and art is further being used as a form of therapy to treat patients with disorders, and help children and adults cope with trauma.

During my research, I stumbled upon the term “synesthesia” – Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more senses. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as shapes, letters, numbers, or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavour. It is a joined perception.

I am still slightly unsure as to how I want to narrow my research topic into…All are fascinating topics, but unfortunately time is against me! As I dwell over which path I want to take, some of the questions I may consider include (but aren’t limited to) :

  • Why is color such a powerful force in our lives?
  • What effects can it have on our bodies and minds?
  • How can we change our interior decorations to invoke a certain mood?
  • How can I use art to release stress?
  • Is my hearing of a sound accentuated with a visual?