Can you teach yourself synaesthesia?


A researcher at the University of Amsterdam has concluded that synaesthesia might not be merely genetic:

To test the idea, they gave seven volunteers a novel to read in which certain letters were always written in red, green, blue or orange (see picture). Before and after reading the book, the volunteers took a “synaesthetic crowding” test, in which they identified the middle letter of a grid of black letters which were quickly flashed onto a screen. Synaesthetes perform better on the test when a letter they experience in colour is the target letter.

The volunteers performed significantly better on this test after training compared with people who read the novel in black and white.

Seven is a really small sample size. This needs to be reproduced with larger samples to be accepted.

New Scientist: Can you teach yourself synaesthesia?

(Thanks Nova!)


  1. Yes. There is less of a clear distinction between the senses than many might think. While this begs the question of whether someone might have an underlying genetic predisposition, at least some people can definitely teach themselves to experience greater degrees of synesthesia. Moreover, I’d say that perception of auras is often a form of heuristic synesthesia. That is, you can learn to combine a variety of subtle factors into feedback such as perception of color, motion, pressure, temperatute, or even smell. As to whether you are accurately getting feedback of *something* rather than just imagining sensations, that is a matter of practice and discriminiation. As to whether it is worth doing something like that, well, hard to say — that is, is it useful for anything? — maybe yes, maybe no. Your mileage may differ. Interesting, though.

  2. Bill, I was actually going to mention auras in the post and then forgot to. That’s pretty much my interpretation of what’s going on with people who see auras – they don’t seem to be lying or (usually) otherwise crazy, but there doesn’t seem to be much agreement between between aura readers about individuals aura colors or what the different colors mean. But it makes a lot of sense as a form of synesthesia – after all, I think most of us perceive “something” about different people. Some seem to just associate a color with it.

  3. I am unsure whether or not I do have synaesthesia but I do see random shapes and colours sometimes. When I first told my mum she said that I was seeing ‘auras’. I think it would be really cool to make that stronger, especially if I could learn to associate sound with shape, and perhaps help with my piano and singing lessons.

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