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What Color Is Your Friday?

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Click here for Steffie’s Profile.

I’m not a scientist. And I don’t even play one on TV (or the web, for that matter).

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So I’d never heard of synesthesia when we started doing research on Steffie Tomson.

If you’ve watched Steffie’s videos, you know that synesthesia is a “blending of the senses”—a perceptual condition where the senses cross wires a bit in our brains. So the letters of the alphabet may be associated with particular colors, sounds may be associated with particular tastes or smells, and so on.

What Color Is Your Friday?-steffie_in_tree.jpg
Every day is colorful when you’re in a tree!

These connections are very specific, permanent, and unique for each synesthete—for instance, “T” may be bright green for one synesthete, carnation pink for another, and midnight blue for yet another one. The particular color is a component of the letter for the synesthete. Non-synesthetes experience “T” as a vertical line with a horizontal line on top. But a synesthete experiences “T” as a vertical line with a horizontal line on top… and it’s ALWAYS a particular color—bright green, carnation pink, midnight blue. About 1% of folks are synesthetes, and you can find out if you’re one here . Now even though synesthesia is perfectly harmless (and, in fact, most synesthetes think it’s helpful), scientists like Steffie study synesthesia because it helps them better understand other conditions that are not harmless, e.g., autism, schizophrenia, and ADHD.

And by the way, Steffie doesn’t just study synesthesia. She plays one in real life.
During our first telephone conversation, I asked Steffie what the coolest thing about being a synesthete was. And she was caught a bit off-guard: “No one’s ever asked me that…” But she sure enough did have an answer to my question. It turns out that in her version of synesthesia, Steffie also associates the days of the week with very specific colors. Steffie associates Friday with the color blue and this blue actually goes from dark blue to light blue over the course of the day. That’s part of how Steffie experiences Friday. It’s exciting for her, she said, because as the blue gets lighter, she knows that she’s moving toward the weekend:

“Imagine a blue bar going from the floor to the ceiling—it’s a gradient, and it gets lighter as it gets closer to the top. That’s part of Friday for me. And I can’t imagine how other people say ‘tomorrow’s Saturday’ and that does the trick for them. For me, the oncoming weekend is always about going from dark blue to light blue.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Steffie is very tolerant of “normals” like me.

But I admit that I am jealous of her. I want a color for my Friday, too!