To Pharrell Williams, his song “Happy” has always been a jumble of reds and yellows and pinks.
“[W]ell … it’s not red, it’s more like orange,” Pharrell said. “But then it’s a little pink, a little rainbow-y, because of the minor chords or whatever.”
His condition is called synesthesia, which according to Live Science, is “a neurological condition that causes the brain to process data in the form of several senses at once.”
According to Psychology Today, the brains of synthetes show a different pattern of connectivity. This was discovered through a study which involved fMRI scans of synthetes, who were instructed to close their eyes but remain alert and awake as they were sent through the fMRI machine.
The resulting data from the studied showed a trend towards connectivity between visual areas (specifically the areas responsible for color) and auditory areas of the brain. Additionally, the visual areas in synesthetes were more connected to the right frontoparietal region, which according to Psychology Today, is a “brain region that may be important for the binding or the strong association of the color sensation with the letter or number.”
Therefore, it would not be unusual if a synesthete heard the number “eight” said out loud, then strongly associated it with the color purple.
However, most people do not have an ability to associate colors with sounds; instead, they associate emotion and memories with it.
“I associate music with parts of my life,” sophomore Prisha Khatwani said. “I connect more with music that I can somewhat relate to, just because I can understand what the songwriter went through, which makes me appreciate the song more.”
According to ScienceDaily, a study was conducted in order to determine the response people had to certain music. The experiment had volunteers bring music and images that evoked pleasure based on their own personal memories. Furthermore, they also brought music samples and images that evoked unpleasant emotion, either due to the personal memories associated with the music, or the actual quality of it.
Based on the electrical activity occurring in the brain, it was discovered that music and pictures cause strong emotional response, including positive and negative emotions. It was also found that music does not typically evoke negative responses, whereas pictures do.
For sophomore Natalie Lim, however, music doesn’t seem to cause extreme emotion but rather visuals of dancing.
“I don’t really have any deep thoughts unless it’s sad or emotional or classical music,” Lim said. “But I just like to kinda mentally dance to ‘boppy’ songs if I’m in a public place.”
However, for sophomore Harini Arumugam, the emotions evoked can vary with the music.
“Depends on the music,” Arumugam said. “Sadness, happiness, excitement, etcetera.”
Whether it be shapes, memories or feelings, music is capable of causing people to feel or visualize different scenarios. For some, such as Khatwani, it triggers positive emotions, depending on the memories associated with it or the actual music itself. For some, it is capable of triggering visuals and colors that complement the music.
Listening to music that is tied with pleasant memories is healthy and can aid the growth of a positive mental state. In fact, according to Time Magazine, “music can buoy your mood and fend off depression,” “improve blood flow” and “lower your levels of stress-related hormones like cortisol and ease pain.” Applying music in daily life can produce beneficial health effects and can alleviate anxiety and pressure.
Ultimately, listening to music can lead to a better mindset and attitude, whether it induces an emotional or visual response.
“Music makes me feel happy, distracted, calm, and overall less stressed,” Khatwani said. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”