How do YOU see the world? Take the test to reveal your visualisation technique – from seeing words on ticker tape to being ‘mind blind’

  • Everyone perceives the world around them differently inside their heads
  • People with synaesthesia may see colours or taste food when they read words
  • Some people are completely ‘mind blind’ and cannot visualise anything 

If you were to close your eyes and imagine a hot cup of coffee, would you see a mug with steam rising off it? Or nothing at all?

Everyone’s mind’s eye is different, and a recent study from the University of Sussex revealed that one per cent of people are completely ‘mind blind’.

Also known as aphantasia, this means that they cannot visualise anything inside their heads, and little is known about why it occurs. 

So how well can you picture things? Click here to take a quiz to find out.

You will be given a description of something, and then asked to rank how vividly you can picture it in your head. 

MailOnline takes a look at the different ways our minds perceive the world around us

In the quiz, you will be given a description of something, and then asked to rank how vividly you can picture it in your head

This is known as the ‘Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire’, and has been proven to be an accurate indicator of the strength of your visual imagination.

But not everyone pictures images in their mind, as some have something called ‘ticker tape synaesthesia’.

This is where they visualise the words appearing like subtitles when listening, speaking or thinking. 

MailOnline takes a look at the different ways our minds perceive the world around us.

Mind blindness

Visualisation is the result of activity in a network of regions widely distributed across the brain.

These networks work together to help us generate images using our memories of how things look. 

Regions include areas in the frontal and parietal lobes, which ‘organise’ the process of visualisation.

They work together with areas in the temporal and occipital lobes, which represent the items we wish to call to the mind’s eye. 

An inability to create mental images, or aphantasia, could result from an alteration of function at several points in this network and the concept was first identified by Sir Francis Galton in 1880.

Everybody’s mind’s eye is different, and a recent study from the University of Sussex revealed that one per cent of people are completely ‘mind blind’ (stock image)

This problem has been described previously following major brain damage and in the context of mood disorder.

Those with severe aphantasia can’t remember faces, imagine a scene or count sheep when they’re trying to get to sleep. 

For a University of Exeter study from 2015, 21 patients with aphantasia described their experiences of it.

Some of them reported a significant impact on their lives from being unable to visualise memories of their partners, or departed relatives.

Others said that descriptive writing is meaningless to them, and careers such as architecture or design are closed to them, as they would not be able to visualise an end product.


Synaesthetes tend to have more connectivity between certain parts parts of their brains responsible for processing sensory information.

These areas of the brain are also larger, while other regions – the ones that help to establish the boundary between ‘self’ and ‘other’ are smaller in synaesthetes.

Scientists have identified six genes in people who have various forms of synaesthesia. 

Dr Joel Salinas, an assistant professor of behavioural neuroscience at Harvard University explained that these six genes are ‘expressed in the hearing and seeing parts of the brain, and are involved in the shape and way these brain cells connect to each other.

‘So there’s a lot of evidence that synaesthetes don’t just report this experience, their brains are wired differently and that goes down to the level of genes.’

Visualise words on ticker tape 

Synaesthesia is a condition where certain colours or sounds trigger different senses.

There is a theory that it evolved in humans because it enhanced our ability to process information and make connections between different stimuli.

For example, it would allow us to quickly associate a small rustle in a bush with a potential predator, or a certain colour with a non-poisonous berry.

Studies have found that nearly everyone associates certain colours with different vowel sounds.

Mental images can also help us better remember and understand information about the world.

Ticker tape synaesthesia is where people visualise the written form of all utterances which they are hearing as scrolling text.

The name ‘ticker tape’ comes from the old-fashioned machines that used to print out stock prices on a long strip of paper. 

Most of us can imagine the written form of sounds if we tried, but for those with ticker tape synaesthesia it is involuntary.

This can cause problems when lots of people are talking at once, as it can make conversations hard to follow. 

But some people with this type of synaesthesia find it helpful for certain tasks, like proofreading or editing.

This is because they can ‘see’ errors or inconsistencies that they might have missed otherwise.

In one study of people with ticker tape synaesthesia from last year, it was found that 90 per cent had it as a response to their inner voice.


There are thought to be between 50 and 150 types of synaesthesia. Here are some of the most well-known forms: 

Grapheme-colour synaesthesia – Letters and numbers are perceived as having distinct colours.

Chromesthesia – Sounds are perceived as having distinct colours.

Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia – Reading or hearing certain words evokes taste sensations. 

Mirror-touch synaesthesia – Feeling a physical sensation when seeing someone else be touched. 

Number-form synaesthesia – Numbers are perceived as having specific spatial locations, either in a mental or physical landscape.

Time-space synaesthesia – Time is perceived as having a specific spatial layout or shape, such as a mental calendar or timeline.

Ticker tape synaesthesia – Any words heard are visualised as scrolling text.

Spatial sequence synaesthesia –   Sequences, such as numbers, days of the week or months of the year, are perceived as having specific spatial arrangements or layouts.

Visualise words as colours

For one in 3,000 people, music, lyrics and everyday sounds can make them see their own personal light show.

Pharrell Williams, Billy Joel and Vincent Van Gogh were all thought to be among these few who have neurological condition called ‘sound-to-colour synaesthesia,’ or ‘chromesthesia.’

This makes the person involuntarily see colours when they hear sounds.

Some chromesthetes, called ‘projectors’, see the colours as if they are projected into the external world, rather than existing inside their heads.

Other chromesthetes, called ‘associators’, experience the colours inside their heads rather than in the external world.

People with chromesthesia are consciously aware of their colour associations, and many grow up assuming everybody else has the same response. 

But it doesn’t have to be sounds that evoke these distinct colours, as for some people it is letters and numbers.

This is known as Grapheme-color synaesthesia, and affects about one percent of the population.

‘Hear’ what you see  

Some people have the ability to ‘hear what they see,’ assigning subliminal sounds to silent visual cues, and this is called ‘visually-evoked auditory response’ (V-EAR).

Research has found that roughly one in five people experience auditory sensations when viewing silent stimuli.

These include car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs and people’s movements.

The scientists behind the study think that some people hear silent movement when information from the visual parts of their brains gets ‘leaked’ to auditory areas of the mind. 

Their report said: ‘The survival of this association may explain links between sound and vision, such as why we like to listen to music synchronised with flashing lights or dance.

‘The effect also provides a good way to learn about what’s happening in the brain in people with synaesthesia, with vEAR’s high prevalence making it easier to investigate the mechanisms behind such cross-sensory perception.’

The synaesthesia-like phenomenon may give these people an advantage when interpreting subtle visual signals, such as ‘Morse-code’ sequences of flashing light – but it could also interfere with their perception of real sounds.

‘Taste’ what you see or hear 

Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia is a condition that causes people to taste something when they hear or see words.

They may associate certain words with specific flavours, but different people may have different associations

This is a rare form of the condition and affects less than one in 100,000 people.

It is thought to occur due to cross-activation between the brain regions responsible for language processing and taste perception.

Those with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia have said they experience both enjoyable and unpleasant taste sensations with their condition.

Some find it useful because they can easily associate pieces of information with different flavours.

Kathryn Jackson, 22, from Nottingham, (pictured) has a condition called lexical-gustatory synaesthesia that causes her to taste carrots every time she hears the name Rory

Kathryn Jackson from Nottingham, who has the condition, says she can also feel the textures of the food and smell their scent when she hears or reads words.

She said: ‘Sometimes a word sounds like a food item, which can trigger me to taste it.

‘So for example when I hear the name ‘Lola’ – I can taste lollipops.

‘The name Ella makes me taste jelly beans because ‘ella’ and ‘jella’ rhyming.

‘My friend Rory’s name makes me taste carrots, because it sound like ‘raw’ at the start which makes me think of carrots.

‘When I hear the name ‘Gus’, I taste custard – I guess because of ‘Gus’ and ‘Cus’.’

She can also be prompted by childhood memories.

She said: ‘My nan’s hairdresser’s name is Yvonne, so whenever I hear that name, I always taste cigarettes and smell hairspray.’

Mirror-touch synaesthesia is a rare neurological trait that makes people highly empathic, allowing them to feel emotional and physical experiences of others (stock image)

‘Feel’ what you see

Mirror-touch synaesthesia is a rare neurological trait that makes people highly empathic, allowing them to feel emotional and physical experiences of others.

For example, watching someone being hugged may trigger a physical sensation of pressure on their own body. 

The parts of the brains of these synaesthetes responsible for sensory information are larger, but the areas that distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘other’ are smaller.

It helps some medical professionals diagnose patients by feeling their symptoms – even when they can’t speak.

We all have a mental mirroring system, in which our brains are creating a 3D virtual reality of the situation we are in, but we are just not aware of it.

But those with mirror-touch synaesthesia are conscious of it all the time, and the boundary between themselves and other people is blurred.

This is thought to be the case for about two per cent of the population. 


Synesthesia causes people to have unusual sensory experiences.

For example, people with the condition might hear a certain sound when they see a specific color.

Additionally, specific tastes can be elicited by certain words for some people with synesthesia, according to WebMD.

The name of the condition comes from Greek roots, and it means to ‘perceive together’ when translated.

Synesthesia is not harmful; the condition does not negatively impact one’s health.

Rather, some research suggests that people with synesthesia perform better on intelligence and memory tests.

The following are combinations of incidents that people with synesthesia can experience:

  • tasting food when hearing or seeing a certain word
  • tasting food when seeing a certain shape
  • seeing patterns or shapes when hearing certain sounds
  • smelling specific scents when hearing certain sounds
  • tasting food when hearing certain sounds
  • hearing a sound when feeling an object in your hands 

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