While most people try not to judge a book by its cover, some involuntarily judge a book by its colors. Simply seeing or hearing words can cause a select group of people to instantly associate words with colors, a phenomenon known as synesthesia. After hearing about this condition, I wanted to know more about those with vocabulary-based synesthesia; when they read a book, for example, do the words form a rainbow in their minds? Are their thoughts as colorful as an artist’s canvas?
According to the American Psychological Association, about 1 in 2,000 people are synesthetes. Additionally, 1 in 300 have some variation of it.
Personally, I have always been a very visual person, and I may have some variation of synesthesia. I’ve always had textual experiences when I have conversations with people and when I hear sounds; I view dialogue as physical, solid words above a person’s head. If they mumble and I do not understand what they say, however, their words transform into symbols that I try my best to decipher, much like how an archaeologist decodes hieroglyphics.
Alicia Mrachek, student, writer, and close friend of mine, has this condition known as synesthesia. Her brain joins objects such as letters, numbers, or people’s names with the sensory perception of color.
Alicia was so kind as to satisfy my curiosity by answering a few interview questions I had for her. I hope you find as much interest in her story as I do.
- When was the first time you found out that you could associate colors with words and numbers?
Being able to associate colors with words and numbers has always been with me I suppose, but I first noticed it when I went into elementary school. I really struggled with math, and as a way to remember the numbers and what they added or subtracted to, I would associate them with colors. For example, the number 7, in my mind, is a light orange-yellow while 9 is a deep green. Together, they make 16, which is a light, aqua green. From there, I began to see names and words in colors depending on the letters that they contained.
- Does your synesthesia come with challenges? If so, what kind?
This mindset certainly does comes with its limitations. I practically think and breathe colors, colors I cannot even name, and as a result, I associate certain colors with certain words and/or numbers. Even my ideas pulsate with their own colors and feelings. Because of this, I will automatically assume certain colors for terms that are being introduced to me. However, the terms themselves will often have a different color or a too similar one between my assumption and the “correct” form. For example, I’ve always struggled with math and oftentimes I’ll confuse numbers and terms together because their colors contradict in my head. To this day, I get the greater-than and the less-than symbols confused in my head because, in my mind’s eyes, the word “greater-than” is a dark green while “less-than” is a light green. When I see the two signs themselves, they are so similar in color and in actual shape and form that I cannot distinguish between which is which. Hannah can testify to this as to this day I still ask for her help in distinguishing the two, haha.
- Do you believe that this mindset is more of a curse or a blessing?
It’s been more of a blessing since it has shaped my likes and my successes. For example, I excel in history, the arts, and literature, and I find great fascination with them because I can comprehend them well. And because of such a color coordinated mindset, I am an extreme visual learner. In history, for example, I can remember dates well because I associate colors and feelings with a certain year. In literature or creative writing, certain words or sentence structures create a color or remind me of a feeling I had a long time ago. As a result of this, these subjects I thrive in and feel successful in because they pair well with my mindset… It is such a part of who I am and what I like that I feel that even if I had the choice, I would never change it.
- Are there specific letters in the alphabet that you associate with certain colors? Can you provide examples?
Yes, there are certain letters in the alphabet that have specific colors, but some letters vary in shades or colors depending on what they are paired with in certain words. For example, in my name ALICIA, the letter A in my mind is a rosy pink, if not a baby pink color. L is almost a minty green color while I is a pearly white. C is a light, soft yellow and the colors repeat for the repeating letters in the rest of my name. However, in the word LEAF, L is a dark, forest green, while E is a frog-type light green, A is a distinct pink, and F is a light, coffee-cream brown.
A big thanks to Alicia for taking the time out of her day to answer my questions. I truly appreciate all of the detail and dedication she gives me on a daily basis.
Do you have synesthesia, or know of anyone that has? Feel free to leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you.
Happy writing and have a happy and healthy weekend!