Ticker tape synesthesia

"Ticker taping" consists of automatically visualising written words in the form of subtitles when hearing other people speak. It can also occur with one’s own speech and/or with internal dialogue, i.e. verbal thinking.

It is considered a type of synesthesia, although it does not actually meet all the  requirements for being one and some researchers are of the opinion that it should not be included as a type (Chun and Hupé, 2013). No figure is yet known for the exact prevalence of "ticker tapers" among the synesthete and non-synesthete population, but an interesting study (Holm, Eilertsen and Price, 2015found that almost half the general population reported some kind of mild experience of this type. The same study also discovered that the prevalence of “strong” ticker tapers (the ones with highly automatic and “obligatory” word visualisation in response to heard words, their own speech and verbal thinking) could be 1.4%. It has been noted that the strongest forms frequently occur in the synesthete population – i.e. people with other types of synesthesia – although it is not known whether it is always the case.

The term “ticker tape” originally refers to the long thin strips of paper with information on the changing stock prices that were used at the New York Stock Exchange (and subsequently at others) up until the 1960s. Today an electronic version with a slimline screen is used to transmit this information, but it still rolls by in a way that is broadly similar to the visualisations of some ticker tape synesthetes. The words they see appear on a mental or visual “screen” in front of them as if they were captions for the words they are hearing or thinking, often travelling from right to left or vice versa. Others see their “subtitles” as static and they appear and fade out as the words are pronounced, and some see them as coming out of the mouth of the person speaking or hovering around their head. For some people with stronger forms of ticker tape, the words are actually physically seen projected in the air (this is the case of projector synesthetes), while others with weaker forms (associators) only see them in the mind’s eye.

A ticker tape machine. (Source: Investopedia)

Some aspects of ticker tape synesthesia:

  • ·         The words appear in a specific font – they might be in Arial or Times New Roman, for example. In other cases they can take the form of handwritten text or look like words being written in chalk on a blackboard, and there are even people who feel the sensation in their hands that they are writing or typing the text themselves, in a “proprioceptive” or “motor” variant of ticker tape.

    ·       The way in which the words appear is consistent for each ticker taper, but the font, colour and other characteristics of the photisms can vary according to the type of voice of the person speaking, their accent, the emotion they put across, the volume, if they are singing rather than talking, etc.

    ·       When ticker tape coexists with grapheme-colour or phoneme-colour synesthesia, the words visualised can have different colours or chromatic nuances.

    ·       The words can appear visually with a short delay after being heard (a third of a second, half a second, for example) or not, depending on the ticker taper in question.

    ·       People with strong ticker tape usually feel overwhelmed by the confused mass of words they see when many people are talking at the same time, finding themselves unable to “disconnect” or stop seeing the words.

    ·       People with ticker tape often report being very good at spelling. Some of them can even spell words backwards amazingly quickly, although it seems that this skill also requires practice (and that there are no advantages of this kind for ticker tapers whose photisms fade quickly away rather than persisting in the air for a few seconds).

    ·       They can also be particularly good at learning languages. However, they sometimes have more problems than the average person with understanding a new language when it is spoken, as they cannot “see” the words properly and get confused and blocked as there is no visible information to help them.

    ·       Some ticker tapers report having learnt to read early in life, at 3 or 4 years of age for example (I am not aware of any studies carried out to determine whether this is so for all or most or just a few, but there might perhaps be a relationship).

    ·       Possible variants that have been described are seeing ambient sounds as written or printed words in the air (the typical “Pow!” “Bam!” “Wham!” in comics), or seeing certain objects “labelled” with their corresponding name floating in space beside them.

Here are some descriptions written by people with ticker tape synesthesia:

"When someone is speaking or if I’m thinking to myself, my brain runs captions across like the stock market does with stocks. Single words are seen in large bubble-like font, appearing and disappearing in similar fashion to a puff of smoke."

(Source: This post on the Synesthesia subReddit. 2020.)

"The words hang there in 3D space until I will them to fade away, or I leave the room and come back having forgotten what was said. My friends have once or twice caught me sidestepping non-existent floating subtitles in public spaces. Yelling is red and scraggly, British people are cursive, caligraphic font, usually black or white inked."

(Source: This post on the Synesthesia subReddit. 2018.)


"Running dialogue goes right to left on a black background in a little serif font. If there's a word I don't know how to spell, or didn't hear properly, it buffers and knocks against the left side until I get clarity, then whooshes away."

(Source: This post on the Synesthesia subReddit. 2019.)

"For me I see them enter from the bottom and exit right, sometimes one at a time or two or three really depending on how fast they’re talking and my understanding of what they’re saying.

If they’re talking fast and I can’t understand what they’re saying it’s just a bunch of nonsense coming right to left with no spacing."

(Source: This comment on the Synesthesia subReddit. 2019.)

"For me English is white with black borders, German is blue, anything Slavic sounding is maroon, otherwise it's red and everything is Times New Roman font. (...)

And if I'm unsure of what someone is saying it's usually red and spelled really weirdly but it's also like my brain intentionally doesn't focus on the words at that time.”

(Source: This post on the Synesthesia subReddit. 2020.)

I definitely have ticker tape, but not every word appears. Only words that are large, uncommon, or pronounced wrong. Closing my eyes actually enhances the words.”

(Source: Cath, in her blog Synesthesia and Such. 2013.)

This synesthete has a ticker taping (+ mirror speech) experience similar to the one depicted in this video clip:

Video clip

"I see sounds and words form very similarly to this. The colors always varying however, kind of like a rainbow aberration on a soapy bubble. (…)
I tend to also feel the letters in my mouth as someone speaks. Not physically as objects but rather as if I was speaking as well, with the feelings in my throat and mouth/tongue to form the words (and also feel things like the coughing).
So if someone is speaking to me, I’ll see the words coming from both them (in front of me) and myself (from behind my teeth) to meet in the middle (at arms length away). (…)
When I speak, it’s a little bit different but it still becomes words in front of me. However, it’s like they get preloaded behind my teeth, far behind near the back of my throat. They get “typed” there as I’m thinking and come out as I speak, usually letter by letter and not word by word like most of the video.
Which is why the repeating “h” in the clip is the most like what I experience."

(Source: This post on the Synesthesia subReddit. 2022.)

An example of seeing a singer’s voice on listening to music

“In this sequence you can see a simplified version of how I see part of Mikel Laboa's song "Txoria Txori". The concurrent experiences always appear on a black background. You can see the colour of the vowels in each syllable here.”

(Image and text: the Basque artist Miren Karmele Gómez. 2018. Original in Spanish.)

An interesting article in Medical Xpress magazine

Here is a recent article on ticker tape synesthesia describing research currently underway by the Paris Brain Institute and with more information about how this phenomena presents. A subtitled world: Uncovering the secrets of ticker tape synesthesia (February 2023)

This page last updated: 03 February 2023


  1. I have tried to explain this to people for years, like "fun fact, my brain actually produces subtitles, it's a weird part of how I process verbal words. when someone says a word I don't know I actually have to ask them how to spell it, or else my brain starts giving me data errors. if there's a different accent or emphasis, it's spelled differently."
    and then I find this.

  2. I am so happy to know I'm not the only one! My mind grabs random words that either someone or myself say aloud and words from my inner voice and have to spell them. That one word is like hanging in the air and I'm tracing its letters while saying each letter (in my head)

  3. When I have tried to explain to others that I not only hear words but I see them as well nobody seems to grasp what I mean.

    I don't just see the words though, I actually see the words shaped like whatever is being discussed.

    As an example, if I saw a red car drive by my mind would see the words "red car" in red lettering with each individual letter being formed from little car shapes that are all red with black outlines to differentiate each car shape that combine to form the letter.

    This happens regardless of it is me speaking aloud or in my own head or if another person is speaking .... it doesn't matter what is said tho ... the letters that I see always seem to be formed from miniscule "pictures" of whatever words are being spoken and depending on what those words are the color of the letters will change to best fit the words and the shapes forming the letters.

    I have always compared my seeing in words to a teleprompter which isn't much different than a ticker taker other than it being a larger "screen"

    Does this make any sense to anybody? I have always seen words ....

    I am 53 and while pretty much everybody I know withinn10-15 years of my age have said their memory over time has gotten worse mine hasn't and at times it seems to be getting even better than it was (and trust me it was already well beyond what would be considered to be having a good memory.

    Sorry for babbling on but this is the first time I have felt like maybe I'm not craxy afterall because being so different hasn't been easy.

    I also have a pretty high IQ and wonder if that plays into this as well.

    I can taste smells and feel sounds and smell sounds too so yeah, maybe I am crazy just not certifiable ... lol

    1. I just learned today that this is not normal. I have had this my whole life and just figured everybody saw the words in their head. I never questioned it, just figured it was a normal thing.

    2. Same here. I mentioned it at work the other day, and the other 2 people in the room said "thats weird." I forgot about it until today, and I started researching. Now I'm wondering what else might not be "normal" lol.

  4. I did not know about this condition. Makes sense to me now. When I hear words that are uncommon or learning new words or phrases, I have to see it in my head. I’m trying to learn a new language and it is frustrating because I can’t just listen and repeat. I have to see the word in my head.

  5. I have tickertape Synesthesia and I speak French and English and Spanish and if people around me are speaking in one of the said languages I can simultaneously translate them in the two other languages and see each word, in my mind as they talk with the sounds of breathing 😮‍💨 and when they exhale 😮‍💨 and see the hum’s and the whatever they say with every sound and a dog barking woof! Or pow 💥 or every sound I hear I see in words with commas, and question marks Everything. I can’t stop seeing the words sung in a song 🎵 every ooooh and aaaah and yeaaah and nah nah nah in my mind like in a cartoon bubble. People yelling I see in Black CAPITAL letters, and I can’t stop this. I am not crazy!

  6. i have this as well, when words are muttered it’s sort of just a jumble of letters with only some consonants popping out that i can distinguish. i don’t see colors in my words, but they sort of appear like static, popping in when spoken and disappearing as soon as i process the word. and i’ve always been really good at spelling because all i have to do is hear the word and i know how to spell it. i’ve only told one person about it, as i’m trying to do more research on it, because honestly it sounds fake, and i don’t know how to explain it, because i just realized in the past year or so that it isn’t normal, and that most people only hear the words instead of seeing them as well, which is hard to wrap my brain around

  7. If someone needs help spelling a word I see the word as bold black letters on an almost opaque beaming background. Words that I don’t know how to spell just show up.

  8. I see the words more like a teleprompter than a running tape. If I've heard a word or sentence & want to revisit it, it shows in front of me a bit like a meme. If I'm hearing a language that is not my first language- it does resemble a tickertape. I also 'see' words in other languages as having personalities, (I'm picturing French and Korean right now) but I don't really in English, which is my first language.