What Happens During A Synesthesia Test?

Updated December 19, 2018

What does the color blue sound like? Can you taste certain songs? Does the number one smell like fruit? These may seem like really strange questions. And they are, unless you are testing someone for synesthesia. People who have synesthesia can sometimes smell or see music and may even taste some sounds, depending on the type of synesthesia they have. There are several types of synesthesia and more than a few ways to test for it.

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The Definition Of Synesthesia

So, what exactly is synesthesia? Because there are different types of this disorder, the definition can vary a little bit, but it is generally the same thing. According to some experts, synesthesia is a neurological trait that causes one to have involuntary, automatic senses from the stimulation of a different sense. It is the ability to feel colors or smell music and many other bizarre mixed up sensory perceptions along that same vein. One person with synesthesia may tell you that the number 12 is blue while another says that the color blue tastes bitter. However, if the number 12 is written on a whiteboard in red, the same person who sees 12 as blue will also see it as red. And those who can taste colors may also be able to see them as the "right" color as well. So, it is like getting a bonus sensation along with the "normal" sensation that most other people have.

Different Types Of Synesthesia

Someone who has synesthesia is considered a synesthete and there are many different types and combinations as no two people experience this condition the same. However, while there are many different ways that people experience synesthesia, there are two major forms of synesthesia, which are projective and associative.

Projective Synesthesia

People who have projective synesthesia tastes, smells, feels, sees, or hears certain senses that are triggered by a stimulus that is supposed to trigger a different sense. In other words, a synesthete with projective synesthesia may smell fresh cut grass when they hear a certain tune or song. Even though they hear the song as it should be, they can smell grass like they are out in a field of fresh cut grass. A more complete but simple description is that people with projective synesthesia have two senses when only one is stimulated. Like when you can hear colors or see scents. This is just a general classification, and there are over 100 different manifestations of this type of synesthesia. With this type of synesthesia, also known as grapheme-color synesthesia, colors are usually seen when hearing or seeing a certain letter or number. These are described as projective synesthesia because they project the colors onto real life perceptions.

Associative Synesthesia

Associative synesthesia is known as such because rather than projecting senses onto real life perceptions, people with this disorder just know these senses inside their head rather than outside their body. In other words, they do not see or smell them; they just know they are there. For example, they know that the number 15 is green even though they do not see it as green when seeing the number written down. These types of synesthetes associate certain colors, scents, or sounds with words, colors, smells, or sounds, which is why it is called associative synesthesia. They see it in their mind, rather than in the real world. To these synesthetes, there is a connection between the stimulation and the sense that is activated, even if it cannot be seen or explained.

Mirror-Touch Synesthesia

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The most uncommon form of synesthesia is mirror-touch synesthesia, which is when you can feel the same thing that others are feeling. For example, if you see someone who breaks their arm, and your arm suddenly hurts, you may have mirror-touch synesthesia. This type of synesthesia is the most confusing and hard to understand. People with this form of synesthesia are sometimes so affected by other people's feelings that they isolate themselves because it is too physically and emotionally stressful. Can you imagine being able to feel what other people are feeling? If you worked in a hospital, your job would be excruciating.

But, you would probably be very good at your job because experiencing what the patients feel give you the extra insight into what may be wrong with them. They would not even have to try to describe your symptoms to you because you would feel them as if they were your own. You would also be able to experience other people's emotions so when someone feels sad or angry, you would feel the same way without even knowing why. This would be difficult for someone who works in the mental health field. This type of synesthesia is similar to empathy only a lot stronger.

How Many Different Ways Can You Test For Synesthesia?

Some experts believe that synesthesia only affects about .05% of the population. Although synesthesia is, indeed, an uncommon disorder, scientists believe it is not as rare as was once believed. The problem is that it is so difficult to test for this phenomenon, many people who have it just do not know that they have it. Sometimes, the condition is so mild that the synesthete does not even recognize the issue and many believe that everyone has this same ability, so they do not get tested. And why would they if they believe that it is normal? You would not get tested for seeing colors because everyone sees colors, right? Well, except for those who see colors differently due to colorblindness. However, there are several kinds of tests for synesthesia. The first one being a questionnaire of 80 questions that you have to answer. It takes about 15 minutes and is pretty simple and straightforward.

The Synesthesia Battery

Synesthete.org has developed an online test with questions for you to answer but you have to register and turn it in to get the results. No doctor or mental health professional needed. The test questions and the number of questions vary depending on which type or types of synesthesia you believe that you have. For example, the test asks you if you believe you sense colors have a certain smell or if you see emotions in color. There are 20 choices or variants. You answer a few basic questions about age, history of certain illnesses such as Asperger's disease or autism and then starts asking you a series of questions that are related to what you believe your synesthesia may be. The answers are mostly sliding scale or multiple choice, and when you are done, you get a report right away explaining the results of your tests. Of course, it is not exactly accurate or even reliable, mainly because it is a self-given test that can be answered incorrectly easily, causing skewed results.

Grapheme Color Consistency Test

This test is for the most common form of synesthesia, which is that colors are experienced when seeing numbers or letters. For example, seeing the number 19 as purple or the letter A as orange. The grapheme color consistency tests can range from a simple five-minute 20 question exam to a lengthy and detailed questionnaire that may take you up to an hour. The questions mainly relate to what colors you perceive when you see certain numbers or letters. You are shown a number or letter, and you can move the little indicator to make the number or letter change color to how you see it. For example, you are shown the number 11, and you can move the dot around on the color chart until the number is the color that you think it should be.

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Color Consistency Test

Another test for synesthesia includes a consistency test, which is a computerized test that shows the participant all 26 letters of the alphabet and the numbers zero through nine next to a palette of 13 colors. These colors include yellow, light green, light blue, white, red, orange, purple, pink, gray, dark green, brown, dark blue, and black, which are used in most color variant tests across the board. Similarly, to the grapheme color consistency test above, the participant is asked to choose what they see as the best color for each letter and number. This test is repeated three times, with the choices the randomly mixed up, and the most consistent answers will show how the participant sees the letters and numbers.

Reading Your Results

There are other variants of the synesthesia tests that can judge things like what colors match certain months or days of the week and how the letter A smells, and so on. Some of these tests are incredibly detailed and accurate, while others are silly online shortcut tests to stimulate your interest in the topic. Whichever type of test you choose to use, it is best to get a professional who specializes in synesthesia to read your results. It can be pretty complicated if you try to figure it out on your own and by talking to a professional, you can get clarification on your results and find out whether you may need some type of treatment for the condition. BetterHelp.com has many online professionals who are licensed and able to talk to you right now. No appointment needed. Just click on this link, and once you answer a few questions, you can be talking to a professional within minutes.


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