People with synesthesia—adults and kids—have their senses crossed: for some, sounds have colors, for others words have smells. It’s sort of like living in an elementary school classroom, where everything’s bright and colorful, and alive—only few other people are experiencing the same show. But according to new research, highlighted by Elizabeth Preston on her blog, Inkfish, its possible for people to outgrow their synesthesia.
The odd connections derive from a brain that’s linked in unexpected ways, where the neural centers for various senses are in heightened contact. Testing a series of children as the grew up, says Preston, two researchers, Julia Simner and Angela Bain, tracked how some kids lost their synesthesia over time.
Young synesthetes losing their colors over time would fit with a popular theory about synesthesia, which says that it comes from an overly connected brain. “All very young children have hyper-connected brains,” Simner says; the neurons branch out indiscriminately between different areas. As we grow, the unneeded connections are pruned away, a process that continues throughout childhood. “It may be that synesthetes escape the pruning, so to speak,” Simner says. All kids might start out with some degree of synesthesia, which fades away with normal development.
Some peoples’ synesthesia survives the childhood pruning, and, in those cases, actually seems to get reinforced. But if it’s true that many more kids than we thought are synesthetic that could go a long way toward explaining some kids’, er, creative artistic endeavors.
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