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.

Emotion-tactile synesthesia could be related to mirror touch or perhaps to pain empathy (vicarious or indirect pain).

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 the online debate platform 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 the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)

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:




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

Pain empathy (vicarious pain, indirect pain)

Mirror touch

This page last updated: 10 September 2021

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