Synesthesia: Some People Really Can Taste The Rainbow
By Audrey Carlsen
Plenty of us got our fill of green-colored food on St. Patrick’s Day. (Green beer, anyone?) But for some people, associating taste with color is more than just a once-a-year experience.
These people have synesthesia — a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense (e.g., taste) produces experiences in a totally different sense (e.g., sight). According to researcher Sean Day, approximately one in 27 people has some form of synesthesia. […]
Jaime Smith is one of those people. He’s a sommelier by trade, and he has a rare gift: He smells in colors and shapes. For Smith, who lives in Las Vegas, a white wine like Nosiola has a “beautiful aquamarine, flowy, kind of wavy color to it.” Other smells also elicit three-dimensional textures and colors on what he describes as a “projector” in his mind’s eye. […]
Atlanta-based pastry chef Taria Camerino also has synesthesia. Camerino experiences the world through taste. She tastes music, colors, shapes and even people’s emotions. She says she has a hard time remembering what things look or sound like, but she can immediately identify objects based on their synesthetic flavors. “I don’t know what a box looks like unless it’s in front of me. I don’t know what the color green looks like. But I know what green tastes like” […]
A synesthete himself, Sean Day is president of the American Synesthesia Association and has been tracking research on this condition for more than three decades.
Summarizing the state of current research, Day says the brains of synesthetes do appear to be anatomically different (although he cautions that scientists have only studied a few types of synesthesia so far). In particular, it seems that the neural connections between different sensory parts of the brain are more myelinated in people with synesthesia.
Myelin is a fatty sheath that surrounds neurons and enables neural signals to travel more quickly. “Because the myelination is different, the interaction between certain parts of the brain is different,” explains Day. This allows parts of the brain that are responsible for different senses to communicate when they normally wouldn’t. […]