Voice-colour and voice-shape

Subtypes of auditory-visual synesthesia

The sound of people speaking or singing can trigger very specific visual concurrents for some synesthetes. Although this is a little-researched phenomenon, it can be considered a subtype of auditory-visual synesthesia. Visual synesthetic concurrents induced by voices include colour, texture, shape, size, spatial position and direction. It can either coexist with other types of auditory-visual synesthesia (so the same person might also have timbre-shape or tone-colour, for example) or exist independently of any other sound-to-sight synesthesias. It can be considered a type of chromesthesia (a general name given to any type of synesthesia where the inducer is sound or music and the concurrent is, or includes, colour), particularly in the case of singing, as the term chromesthesia is preferably used in reference to musical sounds.

This type of synesthesia was researched in one particular study: A. Moos, D. Simmons, J. Simner and R. Smith, Univ. Glasgow/Edinburgh, “Color and texture associations in voice-induced synesthesia” 2013). The following quote is from this study:

“Some voice synesthetes “see” the voice better when the person is singing. For some synesthetes colors vary little between voices but for others, colors depend strongly on the individual speaking. Concurrents may also be influenced by familiarity with the voice or the medium it is transmitted through, such as direct personal communication vs. radio. Some voice synesthetes identify the pitch to be a strong influence whereas others cannot define any criteria of the voice that change their concurrents. In Fernay et al. (2012), the synesthete's perceptions included color, size, and location of the associations. The authors found that a higher pitch, or fundamental frequency (f0), resulted in lighter color associations and a higher position in vertical space. Male voices induced larger shapes than female voices.”

Synesthetic reactions to voices are idiosyncratic and very varied, and different synesthetes have mentioned the following:

-  brighter colours correspond to higher-pitched voices and darker, muted colours to deeper voices

-  the colour, texture or shape depend on the accent

- only familiar voices, or those of people the synesthete knows, have colour, while those of strangers do not

- the colour of the voice is the same colour as the one they associate with the person (go to the page on person-colour synesthesia)

- men’s voices tend to be black, grey or brown, while women’s voices can be any colour

- the texture corresponds to the type of emotion expressed: angry, tired, upset, etc.

As with other types of auditory-visual synesthesia, if the synesthete perceives the visual concurrent physically appearing in front of their eyes they would be a “projector” synesthete, whereas if they visualise it in their mind’s eye they would be an “associator”, this latter type being more common. As with other types of synesthesia, it is consistent: the concurrents may vary depending on different factors (see list above), but they are always the same for each particular synesthete.

Another voice-related type of visual synesthesia is “ticker tape”, which is when words are automatically visualised in the form of “subtitles” on hearing people speak. Go to the page on ticker tape

Go to the page on voice-to-taste synesthesia

Go to the page on auditory-visual synesthesia in general

This page is about voice-color synesthesia
This page is about voice-colour synaesthesia

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