What Happens During A Synesthesia Test?
Updated May 23, 2019
Reviewer Kristen Hardin
What does the color blue sound like? Can you taste certain songs? Does the number one smell like fruit? These may seem like strange questions unless you are taking a test 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.
The Definition of Synesthesia
So, what exactly is synesthesia? Because there are different types of this disorder, the definition can vary a little bit. 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 other unusual sensory experiences that most people do not experience. One person with synesthesia may tell you that the number 12 is blue while another says that the color blue tastes bitter. However, interestingly, if the number 12 is written in red, the same person who sees 12 as "blue" will also see it as red in that situation. And those who can taste colors are also able to identify colors as red, blue, green, etc., just as those without synesthesia do. So, it is like having an extra sensation along with typical 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 called projective and associative synesthesia.
People who have projective synesthesia taste, smell, feel, see, or hear certain senses that are triggered by a stimulus that typically triggers 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, such as hearing colors or seeing scents. This is just a general classification, and there are over 100 different manifestations of projective synesthesia. Within this type of synesthesia exists grapheme-color synesthesia where colors are usually seen when hearing or seeing a certain letter or number. These are described as projective synesthesia because the synesthete projects the colors onto real life perceptions.
Associative synesthesia is known as such because rather than projecting senses onto real life perceptions, people with this disorder experience and associate 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 associate the number 15 with the color 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 physical 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.
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, this would be an example of 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.
The same type of experience can occur with feelings. These synesthetes can feel the emotions of those around them. This type of synesthesia is similar to empathy only exponentially stronger and not a typical experience.
How 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? However, there are several kinds of tests for synesthesia.
The Synesthesia Battery
The Synesthesia Battery can test for various forms of synesthesia. It is a questionnaire of 80 questions. It takes about 15 minutes and is fairly simple and straightforward. You can find this test on Synesthete.org and it is an online test. To use this test, you register with your information and submit it 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 colors have a certain smell or if you see emotions in color. There are 20 choices or variants. You also answer a few basic questions about age, history of certain disorders and injuries. The answers are mostly sliding scale or multiple choice. Of course, it is not an exact science or clinically reliable, mainly because it is a self-given test that can be answered incorrectly easily, causing skewed results, but it is a great place to start for those who think they may have a form of synesthesia.
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 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.
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 and Gaining Understanding
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 online tests mostly for fun 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 intervention for the condition.
If you have questions about synesthesia or a mental health issue, you can look for a counselor in your area or try online counseling. There is an online counseling platform, BetterHelp, which has thousands of licensed counselors ready to be matched with you. No appointment needed and you can get started anywhere you have an internet connection. All you need to get started is a smart phone, tablet, or computer. Just click on this link, and you can get started! BetterHelp offers video counseling, phone counseling, and live chat sessions as well as a message exchange option on the secure platform. There are so many options for communicating with your counselor and getting the help you are looking for.