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Taste color and see sounds? Synesthesia may have a genetic basis.
Learning about synesthesia can help us better understand how our brain works, particularly in terms of perception.
Synesthesia is a condition where two of a person’s senses are intermingled. Either their cognitive or sensory pathways have some sort of overlap. It’s rare, affecting only 4-5% of the population, or about 1 in 2,000 people. Some experts however, believe about every 1 in 300 have some sort of variation of it, as there’s a wide variety of experiences one may place under the umbrella of synesthesia.
One person can say smell colors, while another tastes words, and another still visualizes sounds. For instance, linguistics professor Sean Day, PhD, at National Central University in Taiwan, told the APA’s Monitor on Psychology that "The taste of beef, such as a steak, produces a rich blue. Mango sherbet appears as a wall of lime green with thin wavy strips of cherry red. Steamed gingered squid produces a large glob of bright orange foam, about four feet away, directly in front of me."
To date, there are 60 recorded varieties of synesthesia, a word that in Greek means "to perceive together." But not all kinds deal with sensory perception. There’s also "conceptual synesthesia," where the person can easily visualize abstract concepts, usually mathematical ones. These are experienced as projections which appear either inside one’s mind or outside, somewhere in the environment. There are also many who experience more than one type of synesthesia.
Grapheme-color synesthesia is the most common variety. Here, each letter of the alphabet or number corresponds to a particular shade or color. Autistic savant Daniel Tammet is one such synesthete. He’s a mathematical and linguistic genius whose ability helps him to organize and manipulate numbers and letters in startling and innovative ways.
He can do astronomical calculations in his head and has memorized Pi up to 22,500 places. So far, Tammet’s learned 11 languages, including one he’s created himself. The savant once learned an entire language in one week, in order to impress a TV show host who was interviewing him at the end of it. To Tammet, every single number has a particular shape, color, and texture, which helps him organize thoughts in a unique way. A few famous synesthetes include author Vladimir Nabokov and musicians Billy Joel, Duke Ellington, and Lorde.
Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant and synesthete who can calculate Pi up to 22,500 places in his head. Credit: Getty Images.
Surprisingly, there seems to be tremendous consensus among those with synesthesia. The number five often appears red, for instance. Tuesday is the color orange. And among those with chromesthesia—where sight and sound combine, a C-sharp gives off a particular shade of blue.
Investigations into this bizarre and fascinating phenomenon has gone in and out of fashion since the late 19th century. What’s unfortunate is we have yet to understand the molecular basis for it. These days, scientists believe that by gaining more knowledge of the condition and how it works, we can develop a far deeper understanding of how our brain works, particularly in terms of perception. FMRI and positron-emission tomography scans of the brain, show that those with synesthesia have more activity in the sensory areas inside the cerebral cortex.
These scans also show unusual differences in brain structure and neural connectivity. As a result of this and the fact that the condition is more common among savants and those with autism, neuroscientists today believe that synesthesia is the result of unusual wiring in the brain that takes place during development. Synesthetes brains are likely hyperconnected.
A new study out of at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, has discovered genetic variants associated with synesthesia. Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Amanda Tilot was the lead researcher.
Sound–color synesthesia in three multiplex families from the Cambridge Synesthesia Research Group. (A) The families. Circles indicate females, squares males, and gray shading indicates synesthesia. (B) An illustration of sound–color matching over three trials (colored boxes) for three hypothetical individuals presented with two auditory stimuli. A synesthete (boxes on the left) would be highly consistent in all the trials, while someone who doesn’t have it (boxes on the right) would be inconsistent in their choices. Credit: PNAS.
“We demonstrate that three families who experience color when listening to sounds are connected by rare genetic variants affecting genes that contribute to axonogenesis, a process essential for neuronal connections within and across brain regions,” Tilot and colleagues write. “Our results connect synesthetes’ altered structural and functional connectivity to genes that support the development of those connections.”
While previous research had looked for the location of the condition within the brain, these researchers were the first to study synesthetes and their families’ genes. “We applied whole-exome sequencing to three families with sound–color (auditory–visual) synesthesia affecting multiple relatives across three or more generations,” researchers wrote. The families were purposely selected as they each had multiple members with the condition.
The geneticists compared and contrasted the genomes of family members who were synesthetes to those who weren’t. As a result, they identified 37 genes of interest. Six in particular were highlighted by the scientists: COL4A1, ITGA2, MYO10, ROBO3, SLC9A6, and SLIT2. These are known to be associated with axonogenesis and first become expressed during early childhood, which is also when synesthesia generally appears. This supports the hypothesis that synesthesia is the result of hyperconnectivity or having more neuronal connections inside the brain.
Getting a better grasp on merged senses can allow us to gain a deeper understanding of how the brain works. Credit: Getty Images.
Axonogenesis is when the axons grow and connect new synapses in order to deliver more information across the organ. According to this research, those with synesthesia may produce more connections than those with more typical sense experiences. Their neural connections may also reach areas farther afield.
This was a small sample size, however. More research by Tilot and colleagues is planned, including a wider pool of families with members who are known synesthetes. This time, they’re also including people with the condition who have no known family members with it. This particular follow-up study will also look at just one type, chromesthesia. But in the future, researchers plan to look into other forms of the synesthesia well.
To learn more about this condition, click here.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.