Ever wonder what the number 5 tastes like? What color is G sharp? Or what type of personality does January have? If you were a synesthete, you might be able to answer these questions.
Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. More recently, scientists have speculated that babies are born synaesthetes and slowly lose those sensory connections as neurons are pruned as their brains develop. A recent article from Psychological Science Synaesthetic Associations Decrease During Infancy, provides some evidence for this theory.
Because infants initially have more neural connections than adults, the study authors suspected this increased number of connections could result in synesthesia. Forty-five infants, ranging from 2 months old to 8 months old, and 16 adults were presented with shapes against one of two different color backgrounds. The infants displayed more associations between specific shapes and colors than the adults did, and these associations decreased with age.
The findings suggests that infants have experiences similar to grapheme-color synesthesia in adults (in which reading letters or numbers evokes the sensation of colors), but as the brain changes over the course of development, such experiences occur less frequently.
So even if you’re not a synesthete now, you might have been one when you were little. And if you are an adult synesthete, then maybe you didn’t grow out of it.
For more on synethseia, watch the Mental Health Guru explain the basics.
Wagner, K., & Dobkins, K. (2011). Synaesthetic Associations Decrease During Infancy Psychological Science, 22 (8), 1067-1072 DOI: 10.1177/0956797611416250