Anything Left-Handed > Research > Synesthesia and left-handedness

Synesthesia and left-handedness

We had an email from Left Handers Club member Peggie recently that got us thinking.  She said:

“I am curious if a lot of left handers have synesthesia. Synesthesia is a form of “crossed wires” in the brain that causes a wide variety of interesting phenomenon such as tasting words, painting music and many others. To me people are a color, not an aura and it is very difficult to explain. Interestingly, I discovered when my son was about 8 yrs old he saw many people the same colors as I do. I have always been referred to as “wierd” in my family because I was the only lefty and this just adds to the weirdness. However, I am proud to be a lefty and unique in this world of boring right handers.”

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which people react to thinks with unusual combinations of their senses, for example perceiving certain letters, numbers or even emotions as colours. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Therefore, synesthesia literally means “joined perception.”

Synesthesia can involve any of the senses. Most common is colored numbers and letters, where someone always sees a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet or number. For example, a synesthete (a person with synesthesia) might see the word “plane” as mint green or the number “4” as dark brown. There are also synesthetes who hear sounds in response to smell, who smell in response to touch, or who feel something in response to sight and there are people who “see” emotions as colours (for example we all know about “feeling blue”).

Synesthetic perceptions are specific to each person. Different people with synesthesia almost always disagree on their perceptions. In other words, if one synesthete thinks that the letter “q” is colored blue, another synesthete might see “q” as orange.

Composition VII - Wassily KandinskyRussian artist Wassily Kandinsky, was a synesthete. He tried to evoke sound through vision – pitch through color. His abstract paintings are intricate and (maybe literally) resounding.
This is his “Composition VII”, painted in Munich, Germany in 1913.
He wrote :
“Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

There is a good page of information on Synesthesia here

and that includes the assertion that “synesthetes are more likely to be left-handed than the general population”.

And there is another good page here

which includes videos of some songs that have been written about relating colours to emotions, like:

  • “Red” from Taylor Swift’s Album Red (2012), which includes the lyrics
    Losing him was blue like I’d never known
    Missing him was dark grey all alone
    Loving him was red
  • “Yellow” from Coldplay’s Album Parachutes (2000)

So what do you think?  Do you have any experience of synesthesia? Is this a left-handed thing?

Let us know by adding your comments below.

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21 comments on “Synesthesia and left-handedness
  1. Lefty’s Mom says:

    My son was diagnosed at Vanderbilt University when he was 6. I thought he had a brain tumor and had MRI’s and CT scans. He is a lefty but has become more ambidextrous as he’s gotten older. When he was little he’d get migraines and he told his pediatrician that he knew when he was going to have a bad headache because everyone’s colors turned red. I said when you see colors tell me and I’ll give you the medication. He said it’s when the colors are all red. Further questioning revealed that he seees colors around people and had NO idea that no one else saw what he saw. He was a first grader at the time and thought we were kidding. He’d point to colors that we couldn’t see and said right here is Blue. Well a nurse walked in and he said you see the red right here don’t you. I think since she just walked in she wouldn’t be in on the joke. It was obvious she was clueless. We sent him to Vanderbilt for precaution and because I just knew he had some sort of brain tumor. He didn’t and was diagnosed with migraines and synesthesia by the pediatric neurology team. . The migraines are not caused by the synesthesia. I also called Dr.Gross and Boston University and left a message. She called me back and she asked only one question….. Is he left handed? I replied yes ! She explained that synesthesia had something to do with being left handed. She explained in technical terms but that was the gist of it.

  2. Anonymous Synesthete says:

    I am also left handed, and I think I have synesthesia. I associate color with letters, numbers, days of the week, and months. I read a book (a mango shaped space by Wendy Mass) about a girl with synesthesia that was really good.

  3. Nick Wright says:

    Recently been diagnosed with synaesthesia. Always knew I was a bit ambidextrous and when I was a child I used to pick up cutlery left handed which got quickly changed by parents and my brothers would encourage me to draw like them and put my pen in my right hand. Amazing what you don’t know about yourself.

  4. Max says:

    Im a lefty and have synesthesia.
    Ive Never met anyone with synesthesia yet alone both so it seems preety rare

  5. Zack says:

    I’m a left-handed artist and I find my abstract art somewhat similar to Wassily Kandinsky’s, but if I do have Synesthesia it’s only visual for me as I very easily associate color with a real sense of emotion. Also does any one know if David Bowie had synesthesia (he was left-handed as well).

  6. soodeh says:

    I don’t know what is Synesthesia exactly,or if I am a synesthete. But when I should wear my glasses when someone speaking to me. without my glasses I won’t be able to distinguish the words!
    Am I a synesthete?

  7. Joseph says:

    I see music as colour and vibrations, and can feel it as temperature. Things like the days of the week and months of the year also have a certain hue to them. I also smell things in relation to what I’m seeing, regardless of how far away I am from the object.

    Note: (I’m actually ambidextrous, but usually decide to use the left hand for things)

  8. Biju says:

    Wow… this is interesting. I never thought it was unusual.

  9. Pinaz says:

    I do not see any colors in letters, though I have a very sharp smelling and hearing capacity. My mom has also got a sharp smelling capacity but she is not so good in hearing. I dont if that is a problem but I cannot tolerate loud voices. If someone shouts near me then at that time I see different colors and eventually gives me a headache. I can hear voice from a distance..I cannot even bear to listening to music in a loud or normal volume..low volumes soothes me…So this is my problem and I did not find any suitable theories regarding this..hope you could help me with this..

  10. Jan says:

    From being very young, even before I started school, I’ve always seen numbers, certain words, peoples names and days of the week in colour. Monday is deep blue, Tuesday pink, Wednesday turquoise​, Thursday grey, Friday maroon, Saturday orange and Sunday bright yellow.
    It fascinated my Mum and she just put it down to me being left handed or fanciful. I’m now in my mid fifties and still see colours. I’m glad to know there are others the same as me, though I hope there aren’t too many around as it always made me feel special.
    Keep up the good work with your website, it’s brill!

  11. Judith cohen says:

    I am left-handed and experience synesthesia as well. Numbers and letters have always had set colors to me, occasionally influenced by strong emotional import should there be one. In addition, colors have associated tastes, sweet, sour, bitter, bland. Music has color, direction and taste. For example, I see the music of Mozart as many shades of light green, a color that is almost vinegary, whereas Bach sounds deep red, purple, with strands of gold, woven, tasting of rich chocolate. Time is divided into steps and blocks. I do wonder if lefties are over represented in the cohort of synaesthetes.

  12. Kathryn S says:

    I am left handed too, but can and do use my right hand for a lot things that I suppose most lefties would use their left hand for.

    I guess I’ve always seen letters and numbers as colors, but also that letters correspond to certain numbers.

    I’ve never experienced the phenomena of tasting words, letters, or numbers though. But that would be something!

  13. Sandra says:

    This is enlightening, I was always told my ‘tasting’ words was down to my slight autism. I never thought it could be down to anything else, might be an idea to find out where I can go locally to discover just ‘weird’ I am :-).

  14. Larissa S says:

    If synesthesia is more common in left-handers then I am an oddball. I experience some associations -tasting colors and experience time spatially among them. But I am right-handed. My husband and both of our children are left-handed, and they do not appear to experience synesthesia. My mom, on the other hand, is also right-handed and she also sees people and moods in colors. We are the only two synesthetes in my family that we know of. So in my personal experiences perhaps genetics plays more a role than handedness. However! Left-handedness runs deep in my mom’s family (her mother and two out of six siblings are lefties) so perhaps they are related.

  15. Emma says:

    I am 10 years old and I did not even know there was such thing.
    But now I have read what other people have put on I realise that I think I have it too. Every body I know has a colour depending on the first letter of their name also there is a colour for every smell and number. I found reading the other people’s comments interesting. Thank you peggie for putting it on. I will ask my other left handed classmates about it.:-D

  16. Elaine says:

    I had never heard of synesthesia until I read your newsletter. After reading Peggy’s message about having synesthesia, I guess I have it, too. The letters of the alphabet remind me of colours. Therefore, people’s names, days of the week, months of the year, etc. all remind me of colours. e.g. The name Suzanne makes me think of yellow. Sometimes, I can remember people’s birthdays because of the colour the month reminds me of. I think I have mentioned this to maybe one or two people only if the subject of conversation leads me to it. Otherwise, most people don’t know I have it.

    • Kathryn S says:

      I do the same thing with people’s names and words in general. Because I see colors in the letters I see their names as colors too.

      To me it was always like a fun little game I got play in my own mind. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about this but mainly because I figured everyone did this.

  17. Trudi says:

    I am commenting on the article about synaesthesia. I am 44 and only in the last few years realised that not everyone sees bright light when there is a sudden noise. It is most obvious when a noise wakes me at night, and it isn’t dark, despite the lack of artificial light, a short while later the darkness descends again. I also find the air shimmers when someone blows a dog whistle, even from another room when there is a lot of background noise. It is interesting to read that a large percentage of synaesthetes are lefthanded.

    • Larissa S says:

      I do this too! And it is also most noticeable at night. My bright light appears as black and white geometric patterns, the shapes corresponding to how jarring the noise was. I am also a synesthete with respect to time and a few flavors.

  18. Jessica Malikowski says:

    I have assigned colors to letters and numbers for as long as I can remember. I had no idea that there was a name for it