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Auditory-motor synesthesia

Alternative names could be audio-motor, sound-to-kinetics, auditory-kinetic or auditory-kinesthetic synesthesia


Involuntary body movements triggered by sound might possibly be considered a type of synesthesia, if the specific movements are consistent, idiosyncratic, automatic and provoked by auditory aspects other than rhythm. Dancing, foot-tapping, etc., however automatic, would not fit into this category!



Some people - possibly auditory-tactile synesthetes in all cases - experience involuntary movements of different parts of the body, specific and consistent, in response to certain categories of sounds. These may be either general or musical sounds.

In some cases, it could be considered to bear a relation to lexical-motor synesthesia; alternatively, it could be a component of auditory-tactile synesthesia. Its prevalence is unknown and it appears to be rare, although more cases might be reported in the future.


These descriptions would appear to be consistent with this phenomenon:


"Whenever I hear sounds, mainly music, I feel like I have to move a certain way. Yes, I know it's music. It's supposed to make you dance. But this is different than dancing. These movements aren't dance moves and don't necessarily move to the beat. It's more like, "This sound makes me want to look left. This sound makes me want to open the door with this hand. This sound makes me want to walk around these things instead of going in between them." And so on, and so on. If I don't do the motion I'm "supposed" to do, it feels like holding in a sneeze.

If the song has singing, I immediately try to replicate the body language I perceive them doing. These motions can be as simple as turning my head or uncrossing my legs. This combined with my mirror-speech really makes me feel like I'm "singing" the song. Songs without singing affect me just as much. One song reminds me of running, so I notice my breathing start to become heavier and I have this urge to just take off."

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020. In relation to the second part of this description, also see the pages on mirror-speech and mirror-kinetics synesthesia.)


"I'm relating a bit to this. Sounds and music do make me move in specific ways, and I might have sound-touch because I feel parts of my body when I hear music, and I usually move the same part I feel, so they might be associated."

(Source: This comment on the above post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)


“Whenever I listen to music I can't help but move my fingers, hands and arms in patterns that mimic what the song feels like to me. I can consciously stop doing it after it starts. (…) This isn't something like moving one's hands around mimicking playing a piano when listening to a piano song, rather, percussive, tonal, pitch and tempo fluctuations in songs make me move my hands and fingers.”

“The sensation is indescribable as far as I can tell, but it's somewhere between desire, need, and certainty that this is what I'm supposed to be doing.”

(Source: This post and comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2015 and 2013.)


The following is my own experience. I'm thinking it may be neurological rather than synesthesia-related, but the fact that the parts of my face that move, and how they move, are consistent depending on pitch, key and exact timbre likens it to a synesthesia phenomenon, so it might be best classed as auditory-motor or part of my auditory-tactile. Anyway, I'm just "throwing it out there"!

 “Some sounds in music (usually electronic) cause my face to twitch or twist. There are sounds that affect my eyebrows, my eyelids, my nose or my mouth. The same sound causes the same “tic” or movement and they repeat throughout the song whenever that particular sound occurs, following the same pattern when there’s a sequence. It isn’t pleasant or unpleasant, just curious really. I have to be relaxed and focused on the music for it to happen, with no distractions and preferably in the dark. I can’t recreate the movements unless I’m actually listening to the sounds: they are totally dependent on the music, no conscious process. I can’t move my face like that voluntarily. I made a video of it but I’m not thinking of showing it to anyone.”

(Pau 365, my own experience)


 At least three of these people have auditory-tactile synesthesia. Perhaps this type of motor synesthesia is a variant of auditory-tactile. 


Go to the page on auditory-tactile synesthesia

Go to the page on motor synesthesia in general

Go to the page on lexical-motor synesthesia (words evoke certain actions)

Go to the page on mirror kinetics (involuntary movements on seeing other people move)


This page last updated: 01 April 2024


8 comments:

  1. Two women in my family (both of them synaesthetes with different kinds of synaesthesia), involuntarily move their lips while they are being talked to, as if mimicking the other person's words. Is that auditory-motor?

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    1. Hi Kim! No, that isn't considered a form of synesthesia.

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  2. I 100% relate to the first description. It’s like the music controls my movements. but i can stop it. in my hands or whole body. i just have to relax and tune in. i recorded myself doin this with my hands for the first time. like the music flows inside me n trigger movement. different instruments and sounds and vocals all at once.

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  3. I have auditory-tactile synesthesia, and this also resonates with me. But it's not totally involuntary. When I'm at home, I'll move the part of my body that's "lighting up," but if I'm with other people or not in an appropriate environment, I can easily stay still.

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  4. What is going on? this is not something I could describe in a mandated 5 minute doctors appointment with out being laughed at. So I'm asking here. Since a serious head injury I've been able to voluntarily invoke frisson in any body part I want, without any stimulus. With sound or music It's like I'm compelled to reach out and play the air like an instrument, frisson surging as I play. I'm slowly finding motions for instruments, vocals erratic like fire. some sounds prickle between my hands like I'm holding a sleeping hedgehog. Those same movements generate the same sensation in silence. I cannot hear the music or sound just feel it in the air, i'm not even humming along. Newish while watching tv drama I feel the treads of plot in sweeping movements, the threads have thick textures and vibrate almost like colours unseen.

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  5. Hey. Wondering if you can shed any light on what I may be experiencing.
    Five years ago, I started having symptoms I can only describe as involuntary piano fingers. I don’t play any instrument. The movements were random but a couple of days after the onset of symptoms the movements were in sync with sounds – usually music but other stuff like the sound of suction pumps and hammers clanging. I was going through a stressful time but had never experienced anything similar before, so I saw a neurologist. He couldn’t give me an answer for the piano fingers, but he ran me through some simple tests and to my surprise told me that I had very mild mirror-movement disorder (when I move one hand, the other hand moves ever so slightly). After some months the symptoms disappeared.
    Five months ago the piano fingers came back with a vengeance but this time its spread to other parts of my body – neck, scalp, wrists, shoulder, legs and toes. Its audio induced, if I focus I can consciencely stop it, though it comes back when I relax. Very rarely I get a full body spasm while listening to a piece of electronic music I really love, electronic synth sounds are the most triggering – its an incredibly pleasurable experience but sort of weird when it happens on a public bus so I have to be careful. While listening to music I sometimes get a tickling sensation down my left arm – only the left. It’s not frisson, though I get that in abundance as well. In completely quiet environments I get no involuntary movements. It’s cumulative. One example are noisy crowded food courts – I usually have about 15 minutes before I start twitching and have to leg it out of there. In those noisy environments I get a strong mental image of an action like clawing, grasping and tearing – sounds silly, but like I want to tear myself out of my body.
    I’m chronically sceptical of just about everything so haven’t ruled out it just being in my head – like a psychogenic movement disorder. I try to ignore it, but it persists. I’ve caught my hands and fingers dancing in the moment just before waking up from a nap while listening to music. It sounds similar to audio-tactile-motor synesthesia but its only started in the last 5 years and have never observed it to be the same movement for the same sound – its like there are all these random movements I might do for the cacophony of daily interactions. I’m in my early 30s and have never had a brain injury that I’ve been aware of. I thought it might be stimming as there are a few neurodivergent people in my family though I’ve never been diagnosed. I think its related to a sensory processing issue. From what I’ve read and experienced though, this doesn’t seem like stimming. Its sometimes annoying, sometimes pleasurable. I’ve always preferred quieter places, so I don’t miss food courts.

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  6. Thanks for writing about your case. I must say I'm out of my depth here! Also, it’s often difficult for me to say what should and what shouldn’t be considered auditory-tactile, as there have been few studies on it and quite honestly there are no clear, restricted definitions by leading scientists about what really does and doesn't constitute auditory-tactile syn. And tactile reactions to sound can occur for many reasons. Most of which I'm no expert on! Probably the nearest thing to a definition of auditory-tactile synesthesia could be that it is like unconsciously and consistently categorising sounds in some way, often mainly musical, so the sound of one particular instrument would cause you to feel a specific sensation in a particular part of your body, another instrument would create another type of sensation in another, or perhaps a fast musical tempo would create one tactile reaction, a slower tempo another.

    Sudden onset isn’t normally a thing with synesthesia… but something akin to it can happen to some people: a synesthete with a particular type that they experience only weakly might not be aware of it, but when they realise and begin to focus on it, it suddenly gets much stronger. It can sometimes drastically intensify and only become noticeable after some kind of event or episode (I’ve heard of migraine, extreme stress, hyperosmia for hormonal reasons for example, in people who are already synesthetes). Newly-occurring auditory-tactile reactions have also been reported following knocks to the head or other events affecting the brain. You said you weren’t aware of any brain injuries and did mention some stress… perhaps it responds to an event you haven’t quite pinpointed yet, but which existed?

    With brain damage the cases reported affected non-synesthetes, but the event-related onsets I’ve mentioned here is for people who are already synesthetes, i.e. have other types. I don’t know if that’s your case. If you’ve never experienced any other types of synesthesia, then it’s unlikely that it could be considered synesthesia, it should probably be considered something else and I hope you find what it is.

    But yes, I would tend to agree with what you say about it being related to a sensory processing issue, and perhaps the neurodivergent community and particularly people on the autism spectrum would have lots more useful information on this. It’s interesting that you have this kind of thing in your family, and I agree there may be some kind of connection, yes. Not stimming (correct me if I'm wrong because this isn’t my main field of knowledge but I believe stimming you would have control over and kind of resort to it consciously, while in your case it seems very automatic), but perhaps something that a person knowledgeable about sensory processing disorder, or people who have that, could clarify you on. I'm still not sure about the sudden onset aspect, though, although perhaps someone in that area would know.

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  7. You know that bouncing karaoke lyric ball? A few years ago, after having traumatic repressed memory recall, my head would involuntarily bounce up/down/side to side to the rhythm of someone’s speech. If someone said a word with four syllables, it would not only move four times, it would exactly match their cadence. So if they had a long drawn out syllable, the movement would progress slowly, and with a quick burst of three syllables, there would be three quick movements, perfectly timed. It was involuntary and seemed exactly in sync, despite me of course not knowing how many syllables were coming and which ones would be quick vs slow. Is this a thing? It’s mostly gone away, but sometimes I’ll notice my head will jerk once in sync when someone has a particularly strong emphasis on a syllable.

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