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Synesthesia - The Union of SensationsBY: Divya Narayan | Category: Others | Submitted: 2014-01-31 12:37:43
Article Summary: "Synesthesia is not a disease or an illness. It cannot be acquired or learned from any sources. It is a naturally occurring unique neurological condition or a phenomenon or an anomaly in which the experience of one sensation has an involuntary and cognitive effect on the experience of another sensation through a specific sensory .."
What is Synesthesia?
The word "synesthesia" literally means "sensations being experienced together (as a union)". It has been derived from the Greek words "syn", meaning "together (union)", and "aisthesis", meaning "sensation". 
Synesthesia is not a disease or an illness. It cannot be "acquired" or "learned" from any sources. It is a naturally occurring unique neurological condition or a phenomenon or an anomaly in which the experience of one sensation has an involuntary and cognitive effect on the experience of another sensation through a specific sensory pathway. 
Those individuals who experience the phenomenon of synesthesia are known as synesthetes, which comprise of around four percent of the world's population. In terms of gender demographics, the female synesthetic population is six times greater in number than the male synesthetic population because the gene coding for synesthesia is located on the dominant X chromosome. 
The phenomenon of synesthesia is studied keenly by psychologists and neuroscientists for the influence it might have on the individual's psychological perception of the world and the society in which we live.
Experiencing Synesthesia - The Mechanisms of Union of Sensations 
Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon. The exact mechanism of the occurrence of synesthesia is under debate even today. Neuroscientists and psychologists have hypothesized that synesthesia may have an underlying neural and neurocognitive basis due to availability of neuroimaging data and neuroscientific principles.
The visual cortex is that part of the brain which helps in the perception of vision. The most important parts of the visual cortex are involved in processing of colour and motion. Cross-activation and cross-networking between the white-matter neurons present in these parts of the visual cortex of the brain may be responsible for the occurrence of the phenomenon of synesthesia. This has also been confirmed by researchers through the use a technique called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI).
Lack of inhibition in the feedback pathways in the sensory and association areas of the brain means that information is transmitted in all possible directions, thus leading to various sensory areas in the brain involuntarily influencing one another. This is another hypothesis used for explaining the mechanism of occurrence of synesthesia. Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) leading to decreased feedback inhibition found to occur in families having synesthesia might also explain the genetic basis of the condition.
Various neuroimagery studies conducted through techniques such as PET and MRI have revealed that the brains of synesthetes possess an overly active colour (vision) processing function in the presence of auditory signals.
More research is required to study the effect of these overly active sensory functions on the neurotransmitters produced in the brains of synesthetes.
Causes of Synesthesia
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of synesthesia. However, as per scientists, synesthesia may occur due to the following reasons -
♦ Handedness - Synesthesia has been found to occur more frequently in left-handed individuals as compared to right-handed individuals. 
Forms of Synesthesia  
There are different types or forms of synesthesia. However, some forms are more frequently occurring than others -
How to recognize a Synesthete? 
A synesthete can be recognized by the following signs of association -
♦ Instinctive and instantaneous association of the sensations of sounds, tastes, letters, and colours with one another. This "association" is not "thought out".
♦ Associated ("mental") as well as projected ("physical") sensations.
♦ Production of consistent associations, sensations, and projections. For example, the letter "A" is associated with the colour blue each time it is visualized.
♦ Associating names of individuals with colours, rather than the faces of those individuals.
♦ Creation of pleasant emotional reactions during the creation of a specific association or sensation.
Personality traits of a synesthete -
A synesthete is neurologically normal, and possesses above average intelligence.
However, the method of "perception" of various sensations in a manner that is extremely unique as compared to the majority of the (non-synesthetic) population causes these individuals to possess certain distinctive personality traits as listed below -
♦ More ticklish as compared to non-synesthetes
List of a few notable Synesthetes 
Interesting Facts about Synesthesia  
♦ Number-colour synesthetes cannot associate any colours with Roman numerals. Therefore, is number-colour synesthesia restricted only to Hindu-Arabic numerals?
♦ Perceptual Synesthesia is observed in visually challenged individuals. These individuals associate objects with sounds.
♦ Variations in the spelling of a single word can trigger completely different associations with regards to taste. For example, "cat" could be associated with "chocolate", and "kat" could be associated with "wine".
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