Some people can hear colors, smell flavors, or perceive shapes depending on the temperature. Let’s find out more about this unique sensory phenomenon: synaesthesia.

Many artists have replicated their own synaesthetic experiences in the past, including Pharrell Williams, Wassily Kandinsky, and Vincent van Gogh. The condition is not commonly known, and many synesthetes fear humiliation for their uncommon skill. On the origins of synesthesia, scholars could only make conjectures until recently. According to studies, “colorful hearing”, which involves hearing noises, music, or speech as colors, is the most prevalent type of synesthesia. The majority of synesthetes claim that they visualize these noises in “the mind’s eye.” Studies have shown that synesthetic perception arises unintentionally and obstructs regular perception. One synesthete reported that even in the absence of actual numbers, the color feelings connected to them could still be evoked. A synesthete was provided by the researchers with straightforward addition problems, like “5 + 2.” Their research demonstrated that resolving this arithmetic problem activated the notion of 7, causing the synesthete to notice the color related to that number. The study of the few people who experience synesthesia is only a small portion of psychologists’ interest in the phenomenon. “Synesthesia may help us understand how the concept of similarity is embedded within the nervous system,” says Yale University psychologist Larry Marks, Ph.D.

Josefa (Pepa) Salas Vilar is an artist with synaesthesia who perceives colors and motion in written words, noises, and numbers. “I think of synaesthesia as an intensity enhancer,” she says. “I am a piece of a puzzle, and art is like finding my puzzle.”