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Person-colour synesthesia


This type of synesthesia consists of the involuntary association of one or more colours to known persons (friends, family, etc.). The perception may be simply a colour with no other properties, or the colours might have texture, shape, a three-dimensional presence, a spatial location and even rhythm or movement. The associated photism normally appears after getting to know the person, i.e. some hours, days or weeks after the initial contact or after several encounters with the person, sufficient to form a good idea of who they are, what they are like as a person and what the synesthete’s relationship with them is, and once the colour has been triggered it remains constant and only changes in exceptional cases, which are explained below.


(There is another type of synesthesia where colours are associated with people, but in this case it refers to strangers rather than people the synesthete already has a relationship with: the photisms are perceived on the first sighting of the person in question and they correspond to the synesthete’s intuition of what kind of personality they have. To find out more on this type, go to the page on personality-colour synesthesia.)


In person-colour synesthesia, the aspects that determine the associated photisms are usually one or more of the following: personality; character; the relationship with the person; their physical appearance; their voice; the colour of their hair and eyes; the clothes they usually wear; their skills and abilities; and also some intuitive aspects such as feeling that they are hiding their true personality, for example. Basically, the colour corresponds to the general impression the person puts across after getting to know them sufficiently. For some synesthetes, the aspect of the person that creates the strongest impression determines the colour, while for others several of these aspects combine in a pattern or mix of different colours.


For some person-colour synesthetes, each individual person they know has a different colour or shade/mix/pattern of colours and the repertoire is therefore practically infinite, while others only have a limited number of concurrent colours. Although it is more common for a large number of different colours to be perceived, I am aware of one synesthete who only has two: all the people she knows are either blue or yellow (here).


As to the meaning of each colour, it is different for each synesthete. As the colours are not consciously assigned or chosen but simply “appear” involuntarily, the synesthete is not aware of what each colour means unless they actually think about it and work out the code of correspondences. So for example, for one specific synesthete a “purple person” could be someone with depressive tendencies, while for others their purpleness could correspond to any other trait: intellectual, shy, bad-tempered, happy-go-lucky, straight-haired, spiritually inclined… The different textures, exact hues, shape, spatial location and movement also have different meanings for each synesthete. Sometimes it is impossible to know or put into words the exact meaning of all these elements: it is just something very intuitive.


Person-colour is a relatively common type of synesthesia, and although as far I am aware no studies on its prevalence have ever been carried out, my personal impression is that around 10% of the synesthete population could have it. It could perhaps be considered one of the coloured sequence synesthesias, although it has some characteristics that make it particularly interesting.


As I’ve already mentioned, the colours evoked by this type of synesthesia are stable: once perceived it is rare for them to change and they are normally associated with the person in question for the rest of their lives. A colour change only occurs in two cases: if for any reason a significant change is perceived in the person’s character or personality, or if there is a major change, especially a sudden one, in the type of relationship the synesthete has with them. It is also known for a person's colour or colours to "fade" if the synesthete has not seen them for a long time.


Like other types of synesthesia, person-colour has projective and associative versions: some synesthetes (associators) perceive their photisms in the mind’s eye or merely as a strong impression, while others (projectors) actually see them physically. In this latter case they see the colours around, beside, in front of or above the person observed; this can be called “aura synesthesia”. Go to the page on aura synesthesia


Person-colour synesthesia mainly occurs with people known in real life, although some synesthetes also have colour concurrents for people familiar to them through other channels: if they often chat to them over the internet, for example, or see them frequently on TV. Politicians and other public figures are a good instance of this, and colours for youtubers have also been reported).


Influences from other types of synesthesia

Person-colour synesthesia should not be confused with the type where people have one or more colours evoked by the letters making up their names (grapheme-colour). In this case the colour has nothing to do with the personality or any other impression the person puts across, and people with the same name would always have the same colour (all Edwards would be green, for example). When both types of synesthesia, person-colour and grapheme-colour, coexist in the same synesthete things can start to get interesting, as they receive two colour impressions at the same time. The stronger of the two associations might win, one colour might influence the other and create a mix or pattern, or the colour of their name might be just one of many colour concurrents experienced for that specific person, all perceived at the same time.


Another type of synesthesia that can determine or contribute to a person’s colours is voice-colour synesthesia: the person can take on the colour of their voice, or it might form part of their palette if they have several at once.


Fun fact: many person-colour synesthetes are incapable of seeing their own colour. This is probably due to the fact that we do not perceive ourselves in the same way as we do other people.


Here are some descriptions written by people with this type of synesthesia:


“I have several kinds of synesthesia but this is my favorite. It's definitely associative for me and I'm 36 now, so I've had a lot of time to think of it. I have absolutely picked common threads with the common colors. For instances, I am a blue. We tend to be introverts, philosophers, scholars, etc and prone to moodiness. I am intimidated by most reds and in general, I don't like them. They tend to be aggressive, loud, argumentative, etc although not all bad, they are also very charismatic, attractive usually, witty, and ambitious. Babies don't have auras for me (as I call it) but my children have all started to develop their auras around age 2-3.

Rarely do they change and so far, in both of those instances, I feel it coincided with drastic personality changes from mental disorder, or perhaps my own shift in understanding of them.

(...)

I usually need several times of meeting someone, some conversation and interaction, before I get their aura. Reds are the quickest to identify, I can tell within minutes sometimes.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2018.)


Many people have their own abstract portrait in my head. My one friend is a black picture with glass texture in the middle that curves around... and there are 4 white rectangles at the bottom left. Another friend is a pale green sort of smudgyness, and blue with the same sort of smudginess at the bottom. My childhood babysitter was all rectangles most white and black and a few grey.”

(Source: a comment in the blog Colourful Language. 2010.)


To me everyone has color, sometimes shape and sometimes texture or depth. It helps me remember people. Names have colors to me, but they usually don't match that person’s color. And when they happen to by coincidence ohhhh boy is it amazing.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2018.)


The colors seem to know people better than I do a lot of the time. For instance, I know three people with white. A few weeks after meeting the third, I realized that they were all distant to me, in that something made me feel like I couldn’t approach them or get to know them.”

(Source: Dogstomp, in his daily autobiography comic. 2017.)

 

Go to the page on personality-colour synesthesia (when people you have never seen before or don’t know have colour associations)


Go to the page on “aura” synesthesia (projective personality-colour or person-colour synesthesia)

This page is about person-color synesthesia

This page is about person-colour synaesthesia

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