Synesthetics can see smells, hear pictures, and smell colours and numbers

July 6, 2007

by Latha Vidyaranya

Just imagine how wonderful and sophisticated is our brain that it can file each of our sensory experience neatly into millions of files and retrieve them in a fraction of a second, making us all reel under the gush of nostalgia?! But what if they are wrongly connected to different sensory areas?

This is called ‘Synesthesia‘. It is a condition inside the brain where the sensory nerves from various sense organs bringing in different sensory experiences are wrongly connected to different sensory areas! And can you imagine the effect it has on the person? He can see smells, hear pictures, and smell colours and numbers! It is very true. There are a number of people in this world who can see colours when you mention a number, or when they look at objects, they either smell things or get a particular taste in their mouth that the object is in no way associated with those sensory experiences. I have a cousin who sees colours when i mention some mathematical digits. and this is a consistent experience for them – they see the same colour when we mention a particular number. And I have also come across some autistic children who experience this kind of erroneous sense upon sensory stimulus presented to them.

And the surprising thing is that these people when they were children believed that that is how everybody experiences the sensory stimulations and they come to realize that it is not so only later, may be around the time of school going, when children read number three as 3 and not white or black! Or when the teacher reads a lesson or they listen to a rhyme, all the children repeat rhymes, but these synesthetics would be either seeing colours or smelling certain scents!! Amazing is it not?

Also read: Smell is a powerful sense

(Latha Vidyaranya is a Special Educator and Counsellor and has founded ‘Empower Counselling Centre’ in Malleswaram, Bangalore.)

9 Responses to “Synesthetics can see smells, hear pictures, and smell colours and numbers”


  1. Gods creations are amazing.

    Long back a young man exclamined “Computers are really great – they can do so many amazing things”. Ve. Bra. Shri Subbayasharma who heard it said

    “Yes my son computer is a great thing invented by man; but greatest is god who created man”.

    Just a small miscalculation in gods creation can have so many positive/negative effects!!!!

  2. neela Says:

    Manufacturing aberration irutte…eshto jana product na blame maadi maguge tondre kodtaaralla. 😦
    aLu barutte.

  3. latha vidyaranya Says:

    nimma maatu nija, neela. in these cases people should become aware that blaming either the product or the manufacturer is not going to help. first of all, acceptance of the problem is very important so that the next step of helping the individual can be planned out. identification, then acceptance, then intervention can go a long way in minimizing the damages. but unfortunately, in india, problems go unnoticed, unidentified and even ignored at the cost of great emotional disturbances to the person concerned. ‘awareness’ campaigns are very very important of each of these issues.

  4. pArijAta Says:

    I think this is a strength, not a weakness. Of course, these kids are just differently wired, and if we do not treat it as a problem, it really is not. Of course, it is not a problem only if it is associated with diseases like autism.
    I know a person who “sees” colours when different ragas are sung. I really envy him!

  5. funky j Says:

    i am interested in the link between colour and smell as i have noticed in the natural world things of the same colour often smell alike and the people i point this out to seem to agree so does anyone know of any studies in this area please help

  6. Nsoshisett Says:

    Hello, pArijAta — I agree; I am synethetic in terms of colours/numbers and colours/letters of the alphabet, and I see patterns and colours when I listen to music. I enjoy this! — And, since I am a visual artist, it is an exciting “plus” for me.

    And to funky j — YES! I have noticed this correlation too, but have stopped mentioning it because people look at me as if I’m crazy. You are the very first person to have had the same experience. Thank you for validifying this for me!

  7. Robbie Says:

    I was really enjoying the article by Latha Vidyaranya..and then I got to the part about different sensory areas beign “wrongly connected”. I just discovered -after 54 years!- that I am one of those people you speak of. Sheesh, I thought the whole world had color associations for things. Please study further, and notice that it takes a whole lot of different brains to make up this whole big human planet. I think that if you really allow yourself to think in terms of humans, will remove “wrongly” and in it’s place maybe report what your brain allowed you to understand about other humans. Humans were not made to be right or wrong.

  8. lillian l solis Says:

    I don’t know if it is one of these senses,but whenever a storm is near I can look up the storm clouds and “see” +s and – (minus) very tiny almost miniscule ! I thought everyone could see the same

  9. marishcaa Says:

    i see all words,numbers,days,names,people and all things colour.i think my synesthesia is Genetic


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