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Emotion-tactile synesthesia

An alternative name could be emotion-touch synesthesia


This appears to be a very uncommon type of synesthesia. In Sean Day's study on 1,143 synesthetes none of them reported having it, and it is difficult – although not impossible – to find examples or descriptions of a phenomenon of this kind.


The people who describe it say they have very specific tactile sensations in different parts of their bodies in response to various emotions. It shouldn’t be confused with the physical reactions to emotion experienced by everyone to a greater or lesser extent and which are not synesthesia, such as frisson, rapid heartbeat on feeling anxiety, goosebumps in response to certain types of fear or pins and needles (paresthesia) or blushing accompanying a feeling of embarrassment.

The examples given below refer to tactile sensations triggered by the synesthete's own emotions. For tactile sensations induced by other people's emotions, see the page on Perceived emotion-to-colour and other concurrents.


Here are some cases that could be emotion-tactile synesthesia:

“Happy is green little tickles in my forearms, mad is red waves in the centre of my chest, fear is green waves starting from my chest into my shoulders and down to my finger tips.”

(Source: This post and comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


“Standard everyday emotions are fairly easy to ignore. If the emotion is intense though, the physical sensation ramps up too and often becomes painful. Example, general happiness feels kind of prickly, like goosebumps sort of. When it gets really intense it starts feeling more like stinging nettles. Anger is itchy. Love is like champagne bubbles popping against the skin. Of course emotions often come mixed together and that can be interesting and distracting.”

(Source: this blog post. 2016.)


Usually localized to my face but sometimes spreading to my chest or arms, I feel:

•         Anticipation of events as narrow streams of cold like water droplets on the surface of my skin

•         Irritation or irritability as a sharp, acidic dryness like when chlorine water evaporates from your skin

•         Joy (satisfaction) as a firm, solid smoothness like running my hands over a wooden sculpture

•         Joy (elation) like the soft flapping feel of pulling knotted cotton cloth through your hand, but in my spine

•         Sadness (short, momentary) as a sudden lack of sensation, like your forehead after taking a hat off

•         Sudden realization as a coldness inside my fingers, like the bones are cold water

•         Tiredness or apathy as grains of sand or salt on the surface of my skin”

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


This person feels shape sensations in their hands in response to specific feelings or emotions as their response to certain situations being described:

“Most, if not all, occurrences [have] happened when either a hypothetical/fantasy scenario was being described to me or by me, but perhaps a desire for those situations triggers an object.

For as long as I remember, there would be instances where I hear a word/phrase/sound and I could feel like the pressure required to hold an object of a specific size & weight, without there being an object in my hand. (…) I could only feel the 'ghost' weight but not feel any actual weight. I don't think I've ever known what the things are, although usually they're small enough to be held by one hand.

One of my most distinct memories of these experiences is a car ride when my mum was talking about a dream she had, in which I was an architect, and when she was telling me the dream I felt an object similar to the size of an avocado pit in my right hand. The object wasn't the weight of an avocado pit, I perceived it to be a lot lighter and to be an inelastic object. As a kid, there was a point in time when I did want to be an architect, and I remember explaining to either my sister or a friend my vision for my adult life as an architect. (…) When describing my ideal adult life, I remember experiencing a similar, if not the same, sensation in my right hand.”

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2024.)


I get tactile sensations on my skin, a “pinprick” sensation (strong but not unpleasant) when I feel a sudden, fleeting, specific emotion like contrariness, frustration, surprise, realisation, perceived incongruency, etc. It’s only for those specific mini-emotions, not for general ones like anger, love, happiness etc. It’s one single pinprick only, in a certain body part that can be somewhere on my arm, hand, face or others. It’s sometimes accompanied by a less intense “aftershock” in another different part of my body, usually on the other side. When it isn’t as strong it might take the form of an itch. Sometimes the location or the form of the pinprick imitates those of the visual stimulus or the concept that caused the emotion, where that’s the case (so if what has irked me is an ugly ring someone’s wearing I might feel it in my finger, for example), so it could be related to mirror touch, which I have too. It’s actually very similar to an aspect of my auditory-tactile synesthesia, but the latter type I get symmetrically on both arms, legs, etc. and this is only in one.”

(Source: Pau 365, my own experience)


Related synesthesia types:

Emotion-colour/shape/image

Emotion-smell

Emotion-taste

Perceived emotion-to-colour and other concurrents (with other people’s emotions)

Pain empathy (vicarious pain, indirect pain)

Mirror touch


This page last updated: 19 February 2024


9 comments:

  1. It’s me I 1000% have this one

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  2. well, I have perceived emotion- tactile sensation synesthesia, so same thing, but others emotions, not mine. for instance, the blend of emotions that is lying, feels like touching plastic. I feel it in my palms, and the feeling of it on my palms on my tongue. it's hard to imagine, I know, but it's who I am.

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    1. This is me too! My own emotions I don't feel as tactical sensations, it's others. Like their aura has a tactical feel to it. Some can see auras as different colors, I feel them as different textures. Discomfort is the hot steam from an iron. Arousal is cheaply made faux fur. Contempt is a cold concrete wall. Anytime I try to explain myself...I get weird looks.

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    2. It's so cool to hear that I'm not alone! You are one of the 2 other synethetes that I have found to also have this! It's a cool but sensory overloading tipe that i'm glad not to be alone with.

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    3. also wanted to say that it's cool that you see auras! I don't, but ppl have a vibe, that I hear and feel

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  3. The last example interested me, as I also have overlays with mirror touch and with emotion tactile synaesthesia. I, like them, also experience auditory-tactile synaesthesia. I wonder if it’s common to experience these three types of simultaneously.

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    1. That's my example! I think it's even difficult to say if we should consider these things emotion-tactile synesthesia or what exactly they are, as it isn't something that's been studied much so we don't have much in the way of definitions to go by, it doesn't seem to be very common and it's difficult to find people who have the same thing to compare notes! Even auditory-tactile seems to be lacking in studies and reliable definitions. Yes, I wonder if the MT/emotion-tactile/auditory-tactile combination is something that's found together, as you mention as being your case. It would be interesting to hear about how you experience your emotion-tactile and auditory-tactile. Maybe we have some manifestations in common.

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  4. this is the only explanation I've been able to find for why a specific feeling of sadness/rejection/fear makes my palms sting and hurt. Everytime I tried to Google about it the results came up with little to nothing or claimed it was related to spirituality

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  5. For me I sense their motions, not their emotions. Then I sense their motion as a physical feeling. Then all of their behavior becomes a unique signature to them to the point I can see that before I see who the person is. I can pinpoint behavior when they aren't around, something they changed because they changed it in a way unique to them. I never use it for ill, but I am only realizing now what I have been noticing, but I can see other people's behavior in someone's behavior, my brain screams "that does not belong to you where did it come from". My timing is impeccable because I can remember how the feeling is for certain things, so I don't need a clock or watch or a timer, unless I don't feel like bother with it or if there is a lot going on. Also, the amount of stuff going on overwhelms me and I have to hide all the time or can't go to places where a lot is going on unless I tune nearly everything out, which makes me blind. Blind as in, I notice nothing.

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