My Idiosyncrasy Revealed

By Vicki Tapia

While I’ve always felt I don’t quite “fit in,” a couple of years ago I learned I actually do share an oddity with about one percent of the world’s population. I am a synesthete, meaning I experience grapheme-color synesthesia. Huh? What is that? Is it contagious? Is it dangerous?

Well, no, it is neither. Grapheme-color synesthesia means my perception of letters and numerals is associated with color. Yes, that’s correct. Whenever I think of a letter, word or number, it has a color or hue in my mind. This perception has been with me as far back as I can remember, is involuntary and completely consistent over time. Experts say it is not related to mental illness (whew) and it is possible that people who experience it can perform better on certain tests involving memory. I do, in fact, remember being able to memorize easily during my school years. First described in the 19th century, evidence for this perceptual phenomenon points to an “excess interconnectivity in the visual cortex of the brain.”

Over my lifetime, the colors or hues of individual letters and words have always remained the same. Some of the colors are of a hue that I can’t describe with language. For nearly all of my life, I never mentioned this quirk to anyone, because on some level I thought everyone saw words and numbers in color and simply took it for granted as “normal.” One day, an article describing grapheme synesthesia caught my eye and I suddenly had words to describe my idiosyncrasy. Scientists have now confirmed there is a strong genetic compenent, which holds true in our family. One day, I asked each of my three children what color the letter “B” is and my youngest said “yellow.” The other two looked at us like we were missing a few cogs.

Curious about the “color” of your name? Letters and numbers are different colors for different people. My blue “A” may be green for another synesthete. I see the letter “V” and also my name “Vicki” as a blue-violet color and my last name “Tapia” as a shade of brown.

Any other synesthetes out there?