Synaesthesia in NLP

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Can you imagine what it would be like to hear yellow music or to taste pointy chicken? Synaesthesia, which literally means a “feeling together”, occurs when one sense links with another. Two or more rep systems are accessed simultaneously. For example, some people may see sounds as colours, feel pictures as sensations or taste shapes. One synaesthete stated; “New York is runny eggs. London is mashed potato, but it’s extremely lumpy mashed potato.”

Dr Jamie Ward (of University College London's Synaesthesia Research Group) said: "This fascinating phenomenon is a convergence of sensations that are typically experienced independently. Most of us have senses that are neatly segregated, but in synaesthetes, experiencing one sensation may trigger another. For example, a synaesthete hearing or reading the word ‘Monday' may suddenly see the colour blue, or listening to a saxophone could trigger a sweet taste."

Phobias are an example of a kind of synaesthesia. Often the phobic response (feeling) can be triggered by a visual (AKOG) stimulus. Although the picture may come first, the connection is almost instantaneous, and the two things always occur together.

Sir Francis Galton, the famous geneticist, created the first comprehensive study of the condition during the late 1800s. However, synaesthesia has been neglected until recent years, probably because it causes no real distress to those who have it. In fact, most perceive it as a gift and feel sorry for those who cannot experience it; others don't even realise that they have it, believing that everyone experiences the world the same way they do.

Therefore, it is difficult to predict what percentage of the world's population is affected by the condition, and the estimates vary from 1 per 100,000 to 1 per 200.

Synaesthesias are the metaphors of the senses and poetry and writing evoke synaesthesias by the language used.

We all experience synaesthesias. For example:

  • Music can evoke colours, shapes or emotions
  • Pictures can evoke feelings
  • Seeing someone scraping their nails down a blackboard can make us grit our teeth!

They are often used in advertising. For example:

  • A cheeky wine
  • The smooth taste of peanut butter
  • A sparkling drink that slides down the throat like velvet

Synaesthesia and Eye accessing cues:

With synaesthesias people will exhibit eye accessing cues that are ‘non-standard' – that is, they may look in other parts of the visual field. This tells you that some kind of processing is taking place. The words they use to describe their experience may also mismatch regular eye movements. For example, they may be looking down while describing a colour.

Sometimes people develop unwanted synaesthesia patterns in that they see/feel, hear/feel or see/hear/feel something not so nice all at the same time. It can be useful to know how to use eye pattern theory to help them dismantle such unwanted synaesthesias.


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