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Frequently asked questions...

This Information base on the paper about Synaesthesie published by Marc Jacques Mächler
http://www.synaesthesie.ch/daten/sjfarbeit.zip (Sorry, it is only available in German.)


The history of Synaesthesia
Synaesthesia is heritable.
More female than male Synaesthets.
How common is synaesthesia?
How many different types of synaesthesia exist?
What is the most common kind of Synaesthesia?
Does a Synaesthet have only one type of Synaesthesia?
Does Synaesthesia have an advantage or a disadvantage?
What is the nueronal difference of synaesthetic perceiving?
Can synaesthesia disappear?
Can synaesthesia be acquired?
Are Synaesthets more left-handed?
Have also animals synaesthesia?

The history of Synaesthesia

The Phenomenon of Synaesthesia is known for 300 years. Richard E. Cytowic, an american neurologist, was one of the first to start the research on this issue, after he has made a Synaesthetˇs acquaintance at a Party. He was a pioneer and an important person for the better understanding of Synaesthesia.

In 1996 at the department of clinical psychiatry and psychotherapy of the medical university of Hannover a workinggroup on Synaesthesia was founded. Soon the ˇSynaesthesie-Caféˇ for Synaestets was opened. It gives the oppurtunity to exchange synaesthetic experiences. At the time, there are projects on Synaesthesia in serveral countries.

Synaesthesia was unknown for long time and scientific importance was not recognized. But today there is a lot of research done and the theme of Synaesthesia gains more and more attention in peopleˇs minds.

Synaesthesia is heritable.

There are often several Synaesthets in one family. It is asssumed that Synaesthesia is herited through a gene located on the X-chromosome. For male synaesthets this fact would mean, that he has been given this trait by the mother. But hormonal factors of the control mechanism of brain development could also play a role. However, Synnies should look for other family members having Synaesthesia.

More female than male Synaesthets.

There are more female Synaesthets than male ones. The estimated ratio is between 8:1 and 2:1. Women are also more interested in this issue. Maybe it is because women have less problems to talk about feelings and perception.

How common is synaesthesia?

There is a big argument about this question in science. Some researchers estimate the ratio to be between 1:2500 and 1:300. Others think that the prevalence could be about 3%. Our little survey showed us, that there are many more synaesthets than said. More than 10% figured out to be Synaesthet. To give a final judgment, a study would be needed with several thousands persons.

How many different types of synaesthesia exist?

It is traditionally believed that there are five senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. If one were to calculate the number of permutations (vision-hearing, vision-touch, hearing-touch, etc.) then one would get 20 potential types of synaesthesia. However, it is misleading to describe synaesthesia in terms of pairwise associations between these senses. The basic senses can be broken down in to yet more dimensions. For instance, in the "vision" domain some synaesthetes might experience colour, whereas others might experience shapes, and yet others might experience movement. Another difficulty is that synaesthesia can be triggered by things which are not strictly sensory, such as numbers, letters, words, and names. Thus, the number of potentially different forms of synaesthesia is likely to be very big indeed!

What is the most common kind of Synaesthesia?

This question is not easy to answer. In literature one finds different opinions. We can say, that graphemic Synaesthesia (this means colored letters, weekdays, etc.) is very common. This applies also to the color-hearing what occurs often among Synaesthets.

Does a Synaesthet have only one type of Synaesthesia?

No, most of the Synaesthets have more than one type of Synaesthesia. So severals senses are linked to each other. So it is possible to smell words, to hear tastes or to see music. Often it is not easy to recognize every Synaesthesia one posseses. We noted that Synaesthets often stated not to be able to perceive synaesthetic perception until they were told to concentrate on it and to get aware. So it needs a strong connection to one self to recognize every Synaesthetsia one posseses.

Does Synaesthesia have an advantage or a disadvantage?

It is said that synaesthets are often more intelligent and creative than the average. Synaesthesia enable to more complex thinking, feeling and perceiving. Synnies often have the ability to learn numbers and texts more quickly by heart. Synaesthets have additional senses like images, shapes or colors which support the process of learning. Synaesthesia is also common under artists. Researches showed, that the frequence of Synnies is much higher than in the average of the population. There are also disadvantages because synaesthestic perceiving is more intensive. This can cause an ?over-load? of senses. Colored letters and numbers are mostly an advantage, but sometimes mistakes happen, maybe because two similar colored letters can be confounded. Most Synaesthets could not imagine a life without Synaesthesia. But they don?t feel as something special. For a Synnie his way of perception is very normal.

What is the nueronal difference of synaesthetic perceiving?

Up to now this question has not been answered. It is known that there are differences between Synaesthets and No-Synaeshtets. So it has been showed that when a Synaesthet hears regions in the brain are activated where usually dedicated for the visual seeing of colors. Probably re-wirings or extra connection of the neuralsystem causes Synaesthesia.

Can synaesthesia disappear?

Yes. There are knwon Synaesthets who lost their Synaesthesia after a storke.It has been also showed that older Synaesthets seems to decrease the ability to perceive their synaesthetic colors

Can synaesthesia be acquired?

Yes, but the properties of acquired synaesthesia are somewhat different to those associated with the naturally occurring type. Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, magic mushrooms and mescaline can all produce transient forms of synaesthesia clearly describe synaesthesia.

Are Synaesthets more left-handed?

In some literature you can read that this is true. But recent studies have prouved, that the ratio between left-handed and right-handed people under Synaesthets is the same like under No-Synaesthets.

Do animals also have Synaesthesie?

At first It is to say, that human beings are also animals. Ok, they have a little bit more brain than other animals. But the ability to think like we do is just an evolutionary adaption to our envirentment. It is said that Synaesthesia occurs in the limbic system one of the oldest area in the brain which is located in every species of vertebrates. For this reason we can assume that also other animals perceive in a synaesthetic way.
Dogs do not see very well. But they are very good in smelling. The nose takes some funcitons of the eyes. Bats orient by Ultrasonic. They see in a way of hearing. Up to now there were no scientic researches about the topic if also other animals have Synaesthesia. But I would be an act of human arrogance to state that Synaesthesia is only reserved for human beeing.