Is it just my imagination or do I have synesthesia?

Synesthesia is the neurological condition where a person experiences one stimulus (a letter, a sound, a concept) which automatically and involuntarily elicits a different and unrelated response (a color, a touch, a shape). The possibilities are endless, from perceiving letters as having color to music as having shape to months of the year having personalities. Below is a detail-less table of general syn-types a person might have. For a more detailed list of possible types of synesthetic triggers and responses, follow this link to the Mixed Signals website. Some of my syn-types are:

  • Graphemes (letters and numbers) -> color
  • Sounds -> color, shape
  • Pain -> color, shape
  • For a complete list and more on my own synesthesia, see my other two Hubs: here and here

Short list of possible syn-types

 
Sight
Sound
Smell
Taste
Touch
Emotion
Concept
Sight
Sight > sight
Sight > sound
Sight > smell
Sight > taste
Sight > touch
Sight > emotion
Sight > concept
Sound
Sound > sight
Sound > sound
Sound > smell
Sound > taste
Sound > touch
Sound > emotion
Sound > concept
Smell
Smell > sight
Smell > sound
Smell > smell
Smell > taste
Smell > touch
Smell > emotion
Smell > concept
Taste
Taste > sight
Taste > sound
Taste > smell
Taste > taste
Taste > touch
Taste > emotion
Taste > concept
Touch
Touch > sight
Touch > sound
Touch > smell
Touch > taste
Touch > touch
Touch > emotion
Touch > concept
Emotion
Emotion > sight
Emotion > sound
Emotion > smell
Emotion > taste
Emotion > touch
Emotion > emotion
Emotion > concept
Concept
Concept > sight
Concept > sound
Concept > smell
Concept > taste
Concept > touch
Concept > emotion
Concept > concept

Questions for the possibly-synesthetic

If any of these sound familiar, you just might have synesthesia. What's more, you might have more than one type!

Side-note: Please know that you can have only a few responses out of hundreds and still have a type of synesthesia. For example, in my synesthetic alphabet, every letter has a color, thus I have grapheme-syn. However, I only sometimes notice my sound-syn, so I only know that a few sounds have colors. Even then I can't tell what they are or how often I perceive them. I do know that every time I hear Stellar Kart's song "Eyes", I see the same basic shapes and colors. This means that, despite my few random, weak responses, I have sound-syn. Moral of the story: don't get discouraged if only a handful of letters have color or tastes have shapes. You could still have synesthesia.

So, whether you are just discovering your first syn-type or you are unsure about your fifth, here are some questions to ask yourself to see if your responses could be synethetic.  And just for fun, at the end of this Hub is a short quiz I made based off the following questions.

  • Is your synesthetic response involuntary? By that, I mean do you perceive that same response automatically, without having to think about it, every time you are exposed to that certain stimulus? This is a must. For example, every time I see the letter E, I automatically and involuntarily perceive it as yellow. I don't have to think about it. I don't have to run through a list of colors that it could be. The color automatically comes to me when I see the letter. E is yellow.
  • Is your synesthetic response consistent? Do you perceive the same response every time you are exposed to a certain stimulus? This is also a must. Going back to my letter E, I always perceive it as yellow. I always have, and I always will. Note: over time, especially when you are just discovering a type of synesthesia that you may have, a few colors may shift or become more specific. My letter I changed from ice blue to grey by the time I pinned it down. My letter V became more specific: it went from grey to dark green at the bottom fading into grey at the top. Overall, though, my responses have been the same.
  • Are your responses influenced by outside sources? On the Nexus we call this "SUI" or "syn-under-influence". Synesthetic responses, for the most part, do not correlate in any way to their stimuli. The smell of apples will not look red, the taste of chocolate will not be brown, and the letter O will not be orange. Of course, one or two responses may happen to correlate in these types of ways, but if all or a great majority of your responses can match up with outside influences, chances are they aren't true synesthetic responses. They could be associations you've picked up through school or toy blocks. Let me be a little more specific. If all the colors of your alphabet match with the colors on the toy blocks you had as a child, chances are you're simply remembering the colors on the blocks and associating them with the letters on the page in front of you. This is NOT synesthesia. A synesthetic response is most often unrelated. A person smelling apples might see a purple blob; a person tasting chocolate might see little green triangles; and someone looking at the letter O might see it as black. These are synesthetic responses.

Comparing synesthetic alphabet colors

An example of list comparisons - these two lists compare part of my synesthetic alphabet.
An example of list comparisons - these two lists compare part of my synesthetic alphabet.

Testing your syn

"Alright, 'Lisha," I hear you call out. "I've answered the questions, but I'm still unsure. What if I'm just wanting to have synesthesia so badly that I'm imagining it all?" Rest assured, dear reader, there are ways of telling whether you are a synesthete. What are they? Well, I'm glad you asked. The good news is you have options, and, for your convenience, I've listed and explained these in a nifty little numbered list.

  1. The first thing I would recommend doing is registering on Synesthete.org and taking the Synesthesia Battery test. This test lets you select the types of synesthesia you think you have, then provides a battery of tests and questions for you to answer. At the end of the tests, you will receive your results. A score below 1.0 is ranked as synesthetic. For more information and a preview/demo, visit Synesthete.org. Be warned! This test is long and, honestly, becomes very repetitive very quickly. Luckily, you can stop and save your place whenever you want to, then login and come back to continue where you left off. In my opinion, too, that is more helpful than taking the test all at once. If your responses are consistent over a span of a month or so, then chances are good that you weren't just lucky at remembering the first color you chose and selecting it again and again.
  2. Another way of self-testing is to make a list or a drawing, depending on the response and how best you can record it. There are three simple steps here. We'll use the alphabet as an example. (1) Get a friend to write or draw what you dictate or write/draw it yourself. Look at a list of the letters or have your friend call them out. Look at A. Write whatever response you perceive it as having (color, personality, and so on). Repeat for B, C, D, all the way to Z. Don't force yourself to think of a response for everything. Some people only have part of their alphabet colored or only have a few sounds with shapes. If a letter is hard to pin down, don't stress. Write out possible responses then see what you write a month or so later. (2) Put the list away somewhere where you aren't going to look at it for a month or so. If you can, give it to someone else to hold on to. (3) After about a month, repeat step one without looking at the first list or drawing. Once you've finished, and only once you've finished, get the original list or drawing back out. Compare them. If the majority of your colors changed completely (ex. A is red -> A is ice blue), then your responses were probably not synesthetic. If, however, only a few changed and the rest were almost exactly the same, chances are good that you have synesthesia.
  3. Don't forget my short, 6-question quiz at the end of this Hub. Note that it's meant to be very informal and should only be used as a very, very, very rough guideline. I strongly encourage you not to base your decision off of my little quiz alone. You are the best judge of your own synesthesia. Take as many tests as you can think of, and trust yourself.  Happy huntings!

'Lisha's Informal 'Could you have syn?' Quiz

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Comments 8 comments

Pamela N 4 years ago

There is no test visible or a link to one available noted, at least not via mobile device


'Lisha Danae profile image

'Lisha Danae 4 years ago Author

Pamela: I'm assuming you are referring to the quiz at the end of the article, am I correct? That is a quiz form available to me when I write these articles, and it appears directly in the article at the very bottom. I am not sure how it would appear on a mobile device as I don't use them for the internet, but it will appear in my browser, so try that and see if it works.


dragupine 4 years ago

Some of my friends think i'm insane. I've shown them a couple websites, but they think i'm just saying that I'm a synesthete because of a book i just read, but the only reason i said anything was because by reading the book i realized that giving personalities to letters and numbers wasn't normal so i asked around and almost everyone looked at me like i'd grown 2 more heads or something. One of my friends said that if i really was a synesthete wouldn't i have noticed earlier? i said i thought it was normal and not something to make a big deal about. I don't think she believes me though

by the way, the book was called "A Mango-Shaped Space" and it is really good, so (this goes for everyone, synethete or not) if you haven't read it, you should because it is a really, really good book.


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'Lisha Danae 4 years ago Author

dragupine: I own "A Mango-Shaped Space" by Wendy Mass. It is a wonderful book and was the first one I read after I found out about synesthesia.

As for your friends, you are right in what you told them. Many synesthetes do not think anything about their synesthesia until they discover that not everyone sees colored letters or has numbers with personalities. Only then do they realize they are different and they way they perceive the world is unusual. Otherwise, it may often be part of the background to their daily lives that they may or may not pay much attention to.

You could try explaining this to your friends in this way. Tell them that having synesthesia for you is like, for example, them having sight. If they suddenly heard on a science documentary or talked with all of their family and friends and discovered that the ability to see was rare and that most people lived their lives without sight, wouldn't they be surprised? Wouldn't they have thought that everyone saw the world with their eyes? Before they found out they were different for being able to see, wouldn't they have thought nothing about their sight? This sort of comparison might help.

I'll add this in for you to mention, as well. It's about my own personal discovery. Most people I've talked to with synesthesia will say they've noticed their syn all of their lives but never thought it was different until they heard about synesthesia on television or got strange looks when they mentioned a syn response to a friend. Well, I wasn't one of those people. When I turned fourteen, I was called in to watch a documentary about synesthesia. It was only after I pointed out the pattern of 2s in the group of 5s and said I saw the pattern because of its colors that I realized I even SAW letters and numbers in color. That is, my synesthesia was SO MUCH a part of my life that it was literally in the background. I have no memories of seeing letters in color in middle school, in elementary school, while reading books during my free time - NOTHING. My parents don't remember anything, either, but we're 100% positive that I have synesthesia. In fact, the only memory my father can recall that might be synesthesia-related was when I colored the alphabet sheets in kindergarten and I had to have a specific color for the letter A. But that's it. Until I discovered what synesthesia was, I didn't notice my syn AT ALL. It was only after the discover that I noticed my grapheme-syn and, eventually, my other types. So it's 100% possible for a synesthete to live 14 years of her life without realizing she even experienced synesthesia.


dragupine 4 years ago

I mentioned the coloring of my alphabet to a friend in 2nd grade once, and she thought i was joking. So i never mentioned it anymore. But I always thought, despite even THAT experience, i still thought that numbers and letters having personalities and genders were normal, whereas the colors were not.

Sometimes I think my friends are jealous, though. One friend even admitted that she wanted synesthesia. She even wrote out a list of the colors of names that she imagined what they would be if she was a synesthete. And yesterday, what of my synesthete friends even told me she thought I was imagining it, but I'm not! and my other friends are all very skeptical and some are nicer than others about it, but all in all i think they're just humoring me.

Which is kind of depressing, when you think about it, because, my friends don't even trust me... But thanks for the advice on the sight thing. I'll try that and see if they understand any better.


'Lisha Danae profile image

'Lisha Danae 4 years ago Author

Many, many synesthetes have similar stories about mentioning synesthesia at a young age, being disbelieved, realizing the way they perceived the world was different, and never mentioning synesthesia again. Sadly, it's all too common. But know you are not alone in this experience.

They may be jealous. In fact, some of my friends have admitted to being just that, which makes me even prouder to be blessed with syn! I know many people I've told (for instance, my high school choir class) were genuinely interested and asked questions. Sure, the next day or week most of them forgot I'd ever mentioned it, but they were still genuinely interested at the time.

As for your friends who are skeptical, that's also a common reaction. My own mother was skeptical of my synesthesia at first. Rather, she was with my dad and I when I discovered my grapheme-color syn, so she believed I had that. But a few months later after I came to her and said I thought I had pain-color syn, she was hesitant to believe me. She thought that because I was so absorbed in learning all about syn that my new syn was just wishful thinking, that if I gave it time I'd realize I'd been imagining it because I'd been so excited about my grapheme-syn. I haven't mentioned it to her much since then, but I'm pretty sure she'd believe me now if I told her. My dad believed me. And my mom wasn't trying to be mean about it. I think she was just concerned that I was getting my hopes up or something. So just keep in mind that your friends might be skeptical for many different reasons, not necessarily because they don't trust you.

I know it's a depressing thing to feel like people are humoring you or don't believe you because I've been there, too; but you can't convince everyone of everything, and no matter what you do, some people may still not believe it. I say try different things to show them that synesthesia is real and that you actually do have it, and if they still don't get it, then just drop the subject with them and talk about synesthesia with those others who do believe you. Fretting over it all the time will do you no good. And as time goes on, you'll get better at explaining syn and letting people know you have it, so just hang in there! It'll get easier.


dragupine profile image

dragupine 4 years ago

thanks. I'll try to keep that in mind. Just sometimes things get very frustrating when people look at you like they feel sorry for you almost or something. I really want to yell, "I'm not joking! Stop looking at me like that! Go look it up if you don't believe me! It's real! I am a synesthete! Quit trying to find a different reason for my synesthesia!"

But of course, I can't do that. Well, I could but it wouldn't really help much. Plus it's not nice. And I try to be nice when I can. :)


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'Lisha Danae 2 years ago Author

Sorry for the very late reply!! That's a frustrating feeling to have. I hope you've found a way to explain to people.

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