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Sense and sensibility

If ‘8’ seems matronly or red tastes bitter, you may have a condition called synesthesia.

health and fitness Updated: May 15, 2010 00:53 IST
Sai Raje
Sai Raje
Hindustan Times

How do you do math? Are all the digits from 0 to 9 fairly simple and straightforward in your head or do they have distinct personalities? For instance, ‘8’ is a sweet matronly sort and ‘7’ is her obedient son. Or ‘5’ is a simpleton who married snooty ‘6’, and so on.

Those who crunch numbers while attributing interesting personalities to them may have a condition called synesthesia. Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway in the brain leads to an automatic, involuntary experience in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

Which means different sensory experiences blend together. People could report tasting colours or even attributing personalities and colours to numbers and letters of the alphabet. Those who report such experiences are known as synesthetes. The condition could be prevalent in 1 in 25 people around the globe.

There are over 60 types of synesthesia that have been observed in people. Some of the more common among these are colour synesthesia (where letters or numbers are perceived as inherently coloured); ordinal linguistic personification, wherein numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities, and number form synesthesia, wherein numbers, months of the year or days of the week elicit precise locations in space and may have a three-dimensional view of a year as a map.

“It’s an extremely rare condition and not much is known about it in terms of scientific research. However, people who do substance abuse or are schizophrenics are more likely to have this condition than others,” says psychiatrist Dr Prasad Shetty.


First Published: May 14, 2010 17:49 IST