Synaesthesia: Is it for real, or the product of an over-ripe imagination

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02 November 2015

Presenter(s): Mr James Wannerton
Time: 13.00 -14.00
Location: NHBRU, Meeting Room 1


What is Synaesthesia? Of Greek origin: syn (union) aisthesis (perception). Joined perception or joined sensations.
Those of us with synaesthesia (Synaesthetes) have a neurological condition (not a disorder!) where one or more of the major senses - Hearing, Sight, Smell, Touch or Taste - is joined or connected to another.
Examples of synaesthesia include the ability to taste what you hear; hear what you smell; smell what you touch; or feel what you see! Others can "visualise" time or days of the week as spatial images, or "see" ordinary everyday objects as number matrices.
Synaesthesia can include all the senses and just about any combination of the five major ones is possible.
Synaesthesia is involuntary. The perceptions are automatic and cannot usually be controlled. Synaesthetes tend to filter the effects rather than be able to turn them off. The synaesthetic perceptions are durable and consistent over time.  They never change.
The most common form of synaesthesia by far is the coloured grapheme variety. This is where the sight of a written letter or word (grapheme) produces an automatic experience of a perceived and very specific colour regardless of whatever colour ink the letter or word is printed in. This can also include the numbers 0 - 9. Another common form is coloured hearing - the hearing of a sound leading to the experience of a perceived and specific colour.  An example of this is where someone will see a very specific colour in automatic response to a certain musical sound, or the sound of a word or letter being spoken.

James Wannerton from Blackpool, England experiences lexical-gustatory synesthesia; i.e. he "tastes" words or word sounds.
A committee member of the UK Synaesthesia Association, Wannerton has been the subject of detailed research carried out by the University College London and the University of Edinburgh regarding his synaesthetic condition.
His interests in synesthesia extend to researching cognitive perception, intuition, reasoning and cognitive dissonance and he has been the subject of a number of published research papers and general interest articles on the subject of synaesthesia both in Europe and the United States. Wannerton has also contributed to a number of TV and radio programmes broadcast by ABC, CBS, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. He has also been interviewed for articles in the UK National press as well as in Europe, the USA, Africa and Australasia.

Host: Rebecca Dewey (rebecca.dewey [at]