Can you taste colours?

By Sophia Miettinen

Did you know that some people can taste colours? Seeing or hearing the colour blue might make you taste lemons for example. As weird as this might sound, these people have a condition that is known as synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is a condition where information that is meant to activate one of your senses ends up stimulating one of your other unrelated senses as well. It is estimated that around 2 to 5 percent of people in the world have synaesthesia, and each person who has synaesthesia can have a very different experience. Famous people who claim to have synaesthesia include Kanye West and Lady Gaga, as well as older artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Sibelius who were thought to have had it too.


The most common type of synaesthesia is where letters, numbers and days are associated with specific colours, and this is called grapheme-colour synaesthesia. ‘A’ might be red, ‘Wednesday’ might be purple, and ‘5’ might be black. Another common type is chromesthesia, where sounds are linked with certain colours. A dog barking might make you think of grey, or the sound of a violin might make you see orange. Other types of synaesthesia include hearing sounds in response to smells, thinking of certain shapes with different flavours, or feeling a colour with different emotions. People who have synaesthesia will always have the same experience each time. The same colours will always be connected with the same shapes for example, even many months later.


What causes this?

As there are so many different types of synaesthesia, scientists are still trying to discover why some people experience this condition. Normally, all your senses activate different parts of your brain. Some scientists believe that the brain in people with synaesthesia has made new connections between different parts of the brain that are not normally connected. Another explanation could be that instead of new connections being made, the normal connections in the brain do not stop messages being sent in the wrong direction. Other scientists believe that when we are born, we are born with too many connections in our brain, and as we get older some connections in our brains that should have been broken may have not broken after all.


How can you test if you have synaesthesia?

Close your eyes and think of the days of the week. When you think of Monday, do you think of Monday as a certain colour? Does Monday appear red, or is Friday always orange? Next, listen to some classical music with your eyes shut. Does each instrument seem to have a different colour? Does the piano cause you to see green, or does the violin make you feel purple? Write down what you think of and test yourself again a few hours later to see if you get the same answers. If you do, you may have synaesthesia!