Mirror-touch: reality or fiction


photo courtesy of Creative commons

Jenna Bradford, Feature editor

Recently, people have been coming forward claiming to have “mirror-touch” synesthesia. Synesthesia is “a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color” (dictionary.com). Mirror-touch synesthesia is a type of synesthesia in which the person can feel the pain and experiences of a person they are looking at.

There are many types of synesthesia. Some of them are when people see or hear a word, they taste food, people can see shapes and taste food, hear a sound and see shapes or patterns, feel an object and hear a sound, and mirror-touch (webmd.com).

“Mirror-touch synesthesia (MTS) is the conscious experience of tactile sensations induced by seeing someone else touched.” This can be from the light touch of a feather to full torture in a movie. This condition is not actually as rare as you may think.

“A study shows that out of 100 people, one or two have empathy synesthesia. For such people, the most intense experiences are attained with the observation of pain.” Many people may believe this to be false and just a simple trick much like magicians, but Yale professor Dr. Steven Novella says there is a science that explains the condition.

“…Mirror-touch synesthesia is a product of mirror neurons… mirror neurons basically reproduce the emotions we witness in others and are thought to be a key neurological component of empathy. Mirror neurons also seem to play a role in mimicking the actions of others… Mirror-touch synesthesia takes mirror neurons one step further- they not only emotionally feel the pain of another, they feel the actual pain,” Novella says.

These mirror neurons are in every living thing from animals to humans. For those with MTS, “…it’s as if their mirror neurons are on overdrive.” Neuroscientist at the University of California Dr. Marco Lacoboni said, “Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person’s mental shoes… In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person’s mind.”

So far, there are two people who have come forward and have become part of the news’ interest. One of them is neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital Dr. Joel Salinas. He claims to feel his patients pain. “Someone is doing compressions… and as this is going on, I’m feeling the compressions on my chest as if it were happening on my body,” Salinas said. “As he died, I felt this kind of hollow slipping sensation … and after that I ran to the bathroom and threw up.” He says it helps his patients feel more comfortable with him as he feels their pain.

Another woman Fiona Torrance, from Liverpool, England, has come forward with her experience. “What I see, I feel. It’s all through the eyes. If I watch the body movements or touches of another, it is as if their body is my body and I feel movements or touches. If there’s a sound around me, I see colour and it’s located spatially within my mind’s eye. I feel touch as well from the sound on a part of my body. So sound can be either wonderful or disorientating… Shapes have a colour and a texture – so walking through a rectangular doorway is a blue shape with cotton wool texture sensation. My letters and numbers also have colour too. If I’m in a shopping centre – whatever I look at, I can taste. Sometimes that’s great, but other times you can feel nauseous.”

As one can imagine, this can make everyone’s lives difficult as everything around them affects how they live. Many people have synesthesia, but they just may not realize it, thinking everyone around them experiences life the same way.

This may affect the way kids learn. Instead of the child having autism, ADHD, or other conditions that may affect their learning; they may just experience life differently.