Mirror Touch Synesthesia – A Way To Connect

Mirror-touch synesthesia consists of the feeling of tactile sensations after observing that others have been touched. That sounds incredible, right?
Mirror-touch synesthesia - a way to connect

Mirror-touch synesthesia is an interesting phenomenon that has recently been discovered. People who have it are able to feel the touches that others experience. Isn’t that amazing?

Every single day we come in contact with other people, but at how deep a plane really? This is often not the easiest thing to do. However, it can be said that this contact is common for people with mirror-touch synesthesia.

In today’s article, we will explore this kind of unique connection. First we will tell what synesthesia is, and then we will go deeper into the characteristics of mirror-touch synesthesia and finally we will tell how the researchers measure this phenomenon.

Two hands touch each other

What is synaesthesia

This means that synesthesia is a kind of sensory change. In this, a stimulus of one sense gives a feeling in another sense. Although the phenomenon may seem strange, this way of feeling is neither pathological nor caused by a medical condition.

There are different types of synesthesia:

  • Graphem color. This is the ability to associate letters with colors. For example, “a” can be associated with red, “b” with yellow, “c” with green, and so on.
  • Sound color. Here you associate a sound with a color.
  • Lexical-gustatory. A type where individuals associate words with a taste. In other words, words are associated with taste.
  • Synesthesia of personification. When individuals are able to experience letters and numbers personalities.
Woman smiling in front of a colorful background

The field of synesthesia is an area that is being researched more and more. Therefore, there are many new studies on it. Mirror-touch synesthesia was discovered in 2005.

Characteristics of spear-touch synesthesia

Mirror-touch synesthesia consists of the feeling of tactile sensations after observing that others have been touched. That sounds incredible, right?

These are the main features of this fascinating form of synesthesia:

  • Activation of the somasensory cortex, which gives the feeling of touch.
  • The very same feeling that you experience when someone touches you is what people with mirror-touch synesthesia feel.
  • Consciousness is the condition of recognizing that mirror-touch synesthesia is a conscious experience.
  • A different stimulus than usual is what triggers such a response.
  • Automation of these experiences, which happens without thinking about it.

There are many theories about the causes of this form of synesthesia. The three most common are:

  • Mirror-sensory. This is a theory that suggests that individuals have mirror-touch synesthesia when a somatosensory mirror system occurs below the normal sensory threshold.
  • The theory of the visual and somatosensory system. This theory suggests that people with mirror-touch synesthesia have a visual and somatosensory system that is interconnected.
  • Bimodal cell theory. This suggests that the bimodal cells are activated when touch is experienced, both for tactile and visual stimuli.
Colorful image of man and universe illustrates mirror-touch synesthesia

The researchers are also studying the neurons, which appear to be more prevalent in people with mirror-touch synesthesia.

Similarly, there seems to be a link between mirror-touch synesthesia and empathy. It seems that people with this form of synesthesia have a higher activity in the mirror system and therefore develop a higher degree of empathy.

Can one measure mirror-touch synesthesia?

Several studies have attempted to measure this type of synesthesia in different ways to better understand it. Among other things, resonance imaging and thermography methods have been used. Thanks to researchers, we now know more about how mirror-touch synesthesia works. 

Blakemore, Bristow, Bird, Firth, and Ward presented their own experiment in an article entitled ” Somatosensory activations during the observation of touch and a case of vision-touch synaesthesia “, which was later published in the Journal of Brain and Neurology .

It was about examining the area of ​​the nervous system that is about how to perceive touch, through magnetic resonance imaging.

The researchers transferred it to 12 people with synesthesia and, “C”, a woman with mirror-touch synesthesia. They then analyzed the activity of the neurons when she observed touch on the person’s face and neck, thereby examining the somatosensory typography.
The result was that they found that “C´s” activation patterns differed from those of the other subjects (who did not have synesthesia) in three ways:
  • Activation in the somatosensory cortex was noticeably greater
  • Areas in the prefrontal cortex lit up to a much greater extent in “C” than in the other test subjects
  • The insula cortex was activated in “C”, but not in the non-synesthetic individuals

Through these measurements, they were able to show that “C” had a mirror system of touch that is above the threshold of conscious tactile perception.

Furthermore, as part of her doctoral dissertation, Elvira Salazar decided to analyze whether observation of painful tactile stimuli generates asymmetry of body in the observer’s thermogram. That is, they would investigate this asymmetry using thermography, a technique in which they could graphically record temperatures.

Smiling man looking up

Why?

Because there should be symmetry in normal situations, unless there is a pathology present. The researchers wanted to know if not having it and observing situations with pain could cause asymmetry in thermogafia.

Thus, they found an objective method, thermal asymmetry, so that they could study the physical manifestation of mirror-touch synesthesia in addition to brain activity, subjective perception, and behavioral markers. 

The tactile sensation that these individuals feel after observing it on others is so intense that some believe that those who have it are more empathetic than others. What a great way to connect with other people! We really hope that more research will be done on this topic so that we can learn more about this amazing phenomenon.

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