Thursday, May 26, 2011

Childhood Synesthesia

This is actually me getting my first bike!
When I was a child I could taste music. I never thought this was a big deal, and for the most part I always thought that I just had a really good imagination. Had I ever brought it up with my parents, my mother probably would have told me to shut the fuck up. In the meantime it made videogame music awesome.

The phenomenon of synesthesia is when the stimulation of one sense leads to other unrelated senses being stimulated. These people can see numbers and letters in different colors, taste phonemes, associate touch with colors and everything in between. I do not experience this anymore. I can remember tasting things that I have never actually eaten before as well as getting a metallic like taste in my mouth when I heard certain slow love songs on the car radio.

Yesterday's post was on language acquisition, where I wrote about how children have a critical period in which they are able to learn language. During this time the developing brain is more "malleable" due to neuroplasticity; which means that neurons in the brain are moving around (your neurons literally miagrate to get where they are in your brain HOLY SHIT!), connecting and removing themselves from each other and adding new cells and dendrites. Every time you learn, you are physically altering your brain! This process is simply accelerated in small children, and why it is so easy for them to learn languages they are immersed in, and why it becomes so tough for adults later in life.

At the end of the critical period there is a stage of synaptic pruning, where neurons that have not been firing together are removed. I have a feeling that it was during this period in which I lost my synesthesia. Perhaps it was not used enough, and therefore not pruned. After all while it was pretty neat, it was in no way helpful. I need my sense of taste to tell if my milk is spoiled, and therefore prevent me from becoming sick; but sappy love music wont kill me. I wonder if many other children experience this phenomenon, and then simply forget that they ever had these abilities. Many people who have synesthesia simply never tell anyone because they assume everyone perceives their environment the same way.

Now because I am writing about a personal experience that happened to me as a child, it is only based off of anecdotal evidence. I could very well be appealing to the availability heuristic, or confirmation bias. Nevertheless I would love to run a population of small children in a survey / experiment where we could see if on average they experience synesthesia more than an adult control population. However given the many different types of synesthesia that exist, as well as the amount of participants we would need to run in order to reach a significant result would take too much time and money for me to do on my own. One day perhaps...


  1. I would love to experience this, it seems like such an amazing way to experience music.

  2. Man, that must have been a very interesting sensation to experience!
    Also, it's a common misconception that spoiled milk will make you sick. You could probably get sick from it by the taste grossing you out and psychologically making you feel sick, but sour milk only tastes bad.
    Were there any particular video game songs that really quenched the palate? :)

  3. I would have also loved to experience this. Sounds awesome.

  4. sounds like an amazing experience!

  5. It sounds very unusual.