Gustatory-tactile synesthesia

It can also be called taste-touch

For some people, flavours trigger a synesthetic concurrent. Although they tend to describe their sensation as something between “seeing” and “feeling”, the term “gustatory-tactile synesthesia” is often used in the literature. A very clear case of what could be referred to as gustatory-tactile synesthesia was described in 1995 in a pioneering book by the neurologist Richard E. Cytowic. The book, The Man Who Tasted Shapes, rekindled interest in the study of synesthesia, which had dwindled to almost nothing in recent decades despite previously having been studied by scientific researchers in several countries for over 100 years. Dr. Cytowic gives an account of an acquaintance of his who was preparing dinner for a group of friends and told him that there were “not enough points on the chicken… I wanted the taste of this chicken to be a pointed shape, but it came out all round!” Realising that this surprising statement could be a case of synesthesia, he began to investigate and finally wrote the book, helping to bring the subject back to mainstream scientific research again and fostering the start of the modern-day study of synesthesia, which has never stopped growing and attracting interest since that time. The sensations of his synesthetic friend Michael had a major tactile component, although he also perceived them visually and through proprioception (awareness of one’s own body). Here are some extracts from the book:

“Where do you feel these shapes?” I asked.

“All over”, he said, straightening up,  “but mostly I feel things rubbed against my face or sitting in my hands.”

I kept my poker face and said nothing.

“When I taste something with an intense flavor,” Michael continued, “the feeling sweeps down my arm into my fingertips. I feel it – its weight, its texture, whether it’s warm or cold, everything. I feel it like I’m actually grasping something.” He held his palms up. “Of course, there’s nothing really there,” he said, staring at his hands. “But it’s not an illusion because I feel it.” (p. 4)

This is a mental image you see?” I asked.

“No, no,” he stressed. “I don’t see anything. I don’t imagine anything. I feel it in my hands as if it were in front of me.” (p. 65)

“During our initial chats he explained how he felt and sometimes saw geometric shapes whenever he tasted food or smelled it. He felt some shapes, like points, throughout his whole body. Others, like the spheres of sweet savories, he felt only in his hands. Many shapes were in between, felt in his face, hands, and shoulders. What intrigued me the most was Michael’s sense of grasping the shape, fingering its texture, or sensing its weight and temperature.” (p66)

From The Man Who Tasted Shapes, by Dr. Richard E. Cytowic (pub. The MIT Press). There’s an overview of the book here and it’s available on pdfdrive here

Dr. Cytowic also discusses Michael's synesthesia in subsequent books: there is an interesting and detailed discussion of his case in Chapter 6 of Wednesday is Indigo Blue, for example (pp. 130-135).

Here’s another example of someone who perceives flavours as a tactile sensation in their face and hands:

“Certain tastes feel sharp, rough or soft to me... Some even seem "blurry". I feel it mostly in my face but sometimes my hands as well. It's made eating stuff interesting for me over the years.”

(Source: This post and comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2021.)

Go to the page on gustatory-visual synesthesia (taste-vision)

Go to the page on taste-colour synesthesia

Go to the page on taste-shape synesthesia

Go to the page on gustatory-auditory synesthesia (taste-sound)

Go to the page on olfactory-tactile synesthesia (smell-tactile sensations)

Go to the page on olfactory-visual synesthesia (smell-vision)

This page last updated: 15 Enero 2022

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