Synaesthesia: when two become one – Rebecca Waters Initial Medical

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  Posted by: Dental Design      18th July 2019

Colours have gained a multitude of meanings for us throughout the years. Indeed, if you ask what the colour red represents to someone they are likely to say things such as danger or love, passion or anger. On the other hand, blue may be associated with sadness or calm.

However, for some people colours hold even more meaning, and for people with synaesthesia, colours quickly become more than associations and turn into something far more significant.

What is synaesthesia?

Synaesthesia is an incredibly complex neurological trait or condition that involves a crossover of the senses. For those with the condition one cognitive sensory pathway will instantly lead to an automatic, involuntary sensory experience, resulting in interesting associations and results. For example, people with synaesthesia may be able to taste sounds or see certain colours whenever they think of or say words.[i]

What’s particularly interesting about the condition is that it is likely to affect the majority of people differently. There are thought to be as many as 60 – 80 subtypes of the condition, and each of these cause individuals to see, experience, taste and feel different things depending on which of their senses are linked or what involuntary responses their senses trigger. Therefore, two individuals with the condition will have completely different perspectives, and even those who do share a link between the same senses may still have completely disparate experiences. An example of this would be that two people have a link between sound and sight, but this manifests in different ways. One may see music as swirls and patterns when they hear it and the other may simply think of a certain colour when they hear each note.

Theories behind synaesthesia

Another fascinating aspect of synaesthesia is the idea that it could be so much more than just an unexpected neurological connection. There are theories that suggest synaesthesia may actually be evidence of people developing sensory enhancements, especially as it is widely believed that those with the condition are better able to distinguish between different smells, textures, sights and sounds.[ii]

There is also a type of the condition called mirror-touch synaesthesia that may provide interesting insight into the nature of empathy. Those with this variety of the condition are reported to be able to feel the physical sensation of being touched if they witness something happening to others. This has both positive and negative side effects, as those with this unique iteration of the condition will have abilities such as enhanced facial recognition, but they may also have negative experiences such as those noted by the case of a man who felt excruciating pains in his chest when watching someone receiving CPR.[iii]

How many people have synaesthesia?

Due to the nature of synaesthesia and its many different forms, it can be difficult to truly evaluate how widespread the condition is. The current estimate is that as many as 1 in every 2000 people are synaesthetes, and the most common type is colour-graphemic synaesthesia – basically seeing numbers and letters as different colours.[iv]

As the condition seems to stem from the left side of the brain, left-handed people are far more likely to have the condition. Furthermore, the ratio of men to women with the condition is very distinct, with 75% of synaesthetes being women.[v]

What colour means to us

There may only be a slim chance that one of your staff has synaesthesia, but that doesn’t mean that the way people perceive colour and form associations should be disregarded.

The Department of Health’s colour code for best practice waste disposal has long served as an efficient reminder of which waste stream goes where. This is because the colours have been chosen as logically as possible, for example, anatomical waste is linked to red and dental waste such as gypsum is represented by white. This means the colour code is suitable for all staff members, even those with synaesthesia, as it is likely that they experience these logical colour connections in their minds already.

Initial Medical has made it even easier to remember these colours by introducing the new Colour Code Character posters. Giving each waste stream its own personality, this is a fun way to ensure that all professionals stay compliant.



A world of many colours

It’s undeniable that colours have power, and that our relationship with these hues has psychological significance. By introducing clear colour coded directives and reminders into your practice you can ensure that everyone can benefit, even those whose relationship with colour differ from others.


For further information please visit Tel: 0870 850 4045


[i]Psychology Today. Synesthesia. Link:[Last accessed February 19].


[ii]Psychology Today. Synesthesia. Link:[Last accessed February 19].


[iii]Psychology Today. Synesthesia. Link:[Last accessed February 19].


[iv]Synesthesia Test. Synesthesia Statistics. Link:[Last accessed February 19].


[v]Synesthesia Test. Synesthesia Statistics. Link:[Last accessed February 19].

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