The Taste of Music

March 4, 2005

Music tastes sweet, sour, bitter, salty and creamy to a 27-year-old professional musician named "E.S." This is because E.S. has synesthesia. Synesthesia is a condition in which stimulation of one sense is simultaneously perceived as if another sense is stimulated. For example, someone might see a specific color each time they touch a specific shape.

Researchers at the Institute of Neuropsychology (University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland) described the unusual synesthesia of E.S. in a paper published in the journal Nature (March 3, 2005). E.S. sees colors when she hears a specific tone. For example, the note of C causes the perception of red and F-sharp causes the perception of violet. E.S. also experiences different tastes when she hears specific musical intervals.

To study how tastes are produced by different musical intervals, the scientists had E.S. listen to a tone for one second. A musical interval is produced when two notes of different pitch are played. This tone was followed by a different, one-second tone. E.S. reported that different tone intervals produced different tastes. For example, a "minor second" tone interval caused the perception of sour; a "major second" tone interval caused the perception of bitter.

A sound/taste Stroop Test was also developed to investigate how E.S. mixes hearing and taste. In this test, different taste solutions (sweet, sour, bitter, salty) were applied to E.S.'s tongue while different tone intervals were played. E.S. had to identify the correct tone interval of the sounds. E.S. could also identify the tone intervals, but her reaction time was significantly slower if the taste did not match the tone interval she expected.

References and Links:

  1. Beeli, G., Esslen, M. and Jancke, L., When coloured sounds taste sweet, Nature, 434:38: 2005.
  2. Synesthesia - from Neuroscience for Kids

BACK TO: Neuroscience In the News Table of Contents


Fill out