Take the 2-minute tour ×
Cognitive Sciences Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for practitioners, researchers, and students in cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm thinking of creating a Memrise course that will include numbers and letters with corresponding colors, personality and sounds with aim of trying to develop some synesthesia in myself and anyone who's interested.

Is it possible to induce synesthesia by doing such a course?

If so, how can it best be done:

  • Should I use sound, light spectrum, some other gradients, pick by random or look up some statistics in order to color the numbers? Should composite numbers include colors of their factors or digits?
  • Should letters be colored as they appear in the alphabet or by it's frequency in the language?
  • Are there some other ways?
share|improve this question
You have two questions here, one is a good fit for the StackExchange format, one is not. You ask, in essence, "What is the best way to induce functional synaesthesia?" This is an interesting question, and I'd be interesting in learning the answer myself! Unfortunately, the other question, and the one after which the formal question is titled, is "What kinda of synaesthesia would a subjective person prefer?" This is not a good-fit question - it is subjective and doesn't have a definitive answer. I would recommend removing that section re-titling the formal question. –  BenCole Jun 10 '13 at 18:42
@BenCole I'm not looking for a subjective answer of what colors and sounds to use for particular symbols, but an answer describing some combinations that are essentially better in some way and maybe even useful. And I would choose those colors and sounds for my course. –  swish Jun 10 '13 at 18:58
that's a much better question; the original question seemed more like a poll (particularly given your comment asking for opinions). I would agree that asking for "best-fit" complements re: synaesthesia is a relevant question (I removed my downvote). The only thing I'd say is that you still have lots of different questions in the formal question body, and that can make it difficult to know which question is most important to you. Otherwise, nice question! :) –  BenCole Jun 10 '13 at 19:27
cool link on the statistics ... –  draks ... Aug 16 '13 at 12:52
add comment

1 Answer

You can induce weak/artificial synesthesia on yourself, you cannot induce strong synesthesia on yourself.

The type of synesthesia you describe is the same type that Ramachandran mentions when hypothesizing that synesthesia is not a legitimate sensory experience:

"Could we be absolutely sure that this wasn't happening because early in kindergarten she had repeatedly seen a red seven on her refrigerator door?"

This is simply an association, like remembering the qualities of bacon when it is smelled. True, strong synesthesia is not something that can be induced by association. It is not an association within how they think of something, but a secondary modal experience that is triggered automatically when they experience the first modal experience.

The modern test for synesthesia, the stroop test, perhaps demonstrates this best. In a normal stroop test, participants are asked to recognize a color word that is in a different color (the word "blue" on a red font). The meaning of the word and the color of the word cause a temporary automatic conflict in your brain, and your results are slower than if they matched or were all black. If you ask a grapheme-visual synesthese to recognize numbers that disagree with the colors they see it as, their responses will slow. If you were to undergo this memorization training, your responses would not slow, the association you have is memory based and would occur after recognition processing.

To expand on the differences between weak synesthesia and strong synesthesia

Weak synesthesia is association or metaphor. You do not experience the secondary meaning, you simply think of it. It can sometimes seem very close to experiencing it, but it is still separate. If you are thinking of red after seeing a 7, someone could distract you or you could willingly think of another color equally.

Strong synesthesia is an automatic inappropriate modal response. A modal response is the response of one distinct sense to an input. For most people, this is the normal things, sound and hearing, scent and smell... For a synesthese the color they see on a number or while listening to music is exactly as real as the number or music itself. Someone attempting to emulate this may imagine the number they see in their mind and then think of a color. To the synesthese, not only is the synesthetic color on the number, but so is the actual color of the number. It does not overwrite the actual input, it is simply additional input. It is 'inappropriate' because it is a response that is not supposed to happen for that input. It is automatic in the sense that it cannot be ignored, blocked out, distracted from, changed in any way, or otherwise consciously altered. Trying to do so would be equivalent to trying to convince yourself you do not see a cup. It won't work, your automatic senses will still tell you there is a cup.

For more information, I would recommend any of the following:

  • The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Dr. Cytowic is the original modern research on synesthesia, though the hypothesis Cytowic puts forth is not held very highly anymore.

  • The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran has a section on Synesthesia incorporating both real-world examples and the most up-to-date research on the matter in a very readable way.

  • Varieties of Anomalous Experience is not as up-to-date as Ramachandran but cites specific studies and research in more detail.

share|improve this answer
is there a definition for strong vs weak synaesthesia that isn't just how it was induced/seeded? –  Krysta Jul 9 '13 at 18:22
@Krysta Strong synesthesia is an automatic 'inappropriate' modal response, where weak is either associative or metaphorical but not automatic. A modal response is any sense responding to a input, smelling scents, hearing sounds, whatever. In this case inappropriate means it is responding improperly to an input or the wrong sense is responding to the input. Automatic means there is not way for the experience to block it or ignore it, it is just as much part of their sensory input as our normal array is. –  Nich Del Jul 9 '13 at 18:26
Ah! "Weak synaesthesia" has also been called conceptual synaesthesia, then. Is this Ramachandran's term? Do you know if Baron-Cohen has weighed in on this definition? –  Krysta Jul 9 '13 at 18:46
@Krysta I believe Varieties of Anomalous Experience called it weak synaesthesia. My education in the matter is self-taught so I'm not sure how well adopted the terminology is. Although I think conceptual synesthesia still falls under strong synesthesia in these definitions. A grapheme-color synesthese still cannot filter out the synesthetic effect, though the processing certainly does happen at a different stage than say sound-color, which is lower level. This definition of weak synesthesia is more about artistic/metaphorical effects and thus calling it synesthesia might be misleading. –  Nich Del Jul 9 '13 at 18:54
I haven't heard grapheme-color synaesthesia called weak or conceptual; because of letter/numbers' special overlearned status and automatic recognition, I'd think there's a pretty strong argument for including it with more "basic", sensory synaesthesia. –  Krysta Jul 9 '13 at 18:59
show 1 more comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.