greenT: Exploring grapheme-color synesthesia - Shiny Contest Submission

greenT: Exploring grapheme-color synesthesia

Authors: Kaija Gahm

Abstract: A tool for exploring grapheme-color synesthesia. See what color your name appears in my head, or set your own colors and choose words to display. Download the data and images you create. If you also have synesthesia, optionally contribute your own colors for future analysis.

Full Description:

Exploring grapheme-color synesthesia

(see the bottom of this post for a note on auth token privacy)

My name is Kaija, and I have what's known as grapheme-color synesthesia. It's a (completely benign!) phenomenon where I experience letters and numbers as having colors associated with them. I don't literally see colors floating in the air, but I've consistently associated a color with each letter and number for most of my life.

Having synesthesia doesn't affect my life much. It occasionally comes in handy for remembering credit card PINs and phone numbers, and sometimes I draw associations between completely unrelated words because they happen to have similar colors. But it's mostly just a fun little party trick.

Still, when I tell my friends about my synesthesia, they want to know what color their name is. And while I can certainly type out "magenta, red, brown, pale yellow" (Mary) or "magenta, red, blue, blue, whitish, gray" (Maddie), that can be hard to picture. And it's frustrating to have to consciously translate my mental impressions of color into words.

I wanted a way to quickly represent any word or words in the colors I see it in. I did a bit of googling to see if anyone had come up with a synesthesia simulator. The closest thing I found was Bernadette Sheridan's website, which did exactly what I wanted to do, but only for Bernadette's own colors! Cool, but not useful to me or to any other synesthetes (like my brother) who might want to show me their own colors.

So, I built this app. I'm excited to add more features in the future, but for now, it has three main parts:

At the top of the app's main page, you'll see 36 color selectors (developed using the colourpicker package), one for each letter and digit. When you load the app, the colors are chosen randomly, but you can change any or all of the colors by clicking on each selector yourself. If you find it easier to start from white selectors, click "Set all to white" and then choose colors one at a time.

If you have synesthesia, you can set your own colors. If you don't, feel free to use the app to choose whatever colors look good to you. Or you can click the "Kaija's colors" button to see what color your name is in my head, similar to Bernadette's project. Once you're happy with the colors you've set, feel free to hide the selectors using the "Show/hide selectors" link at the top.

Next, you can enter text you'd like to translate into colors. The text will plot as rectangles, with the letters optionally superimposed in either white or black, whichever provides the best contrast to the color you've chosen. Use the toggle switch to remove the letters. Note that for simplicity, all text gets converted to lowercase, and all non-alphanumeric characters show up as white.

If you want to show your friends what colors their names are, download the plot you've created using the "Download rectangles as .png" button. If you're interested in analyzing your colors further, download the color values themselves, as both hex codes and RGB values, using the "Download colors as .csv" button.

The About page gives a bit of backstory for the app, similar to what I've written here. It also links to a few more resources you might be interested in if you want to learn more about synesthesia. And most importantly, I use this page to thank Jonathan Trattner, Dean Attali, and Bernadette Sheridan for their contributions to this app, in code or inspiration.

I'm always on the hunt for projects, and I've thought for a while that I would love to analyze data on my own colors and those of other people. For example, past research has found that there are some patterns in which letters synesthetes associate with which colors. I'm also interested in intra-individual variation. For example, while my K is a very strong magenta color and always has been (it has never varied for as long as I can remember, and it doesn't change based on the letters around it), some of my letter-color associations are much weaker. E, which I've encoded in this app as gray, is really almost colorless or translucent. It tends to take on the colors of the letters around it. So I'd love to repeatedly collect my own color data and analyze it.

If you want to contribute your data to my (independent, informal, unofficial!) research into this phenomenon, I encourage you to fill out the form on the Contribute page. Make sure to set your colors using the selectors on the Explore tab before filling out the rest of the form--when you click "Submit", the currently-selected colors will be recorded along with the demographic info you've entered.

Also: feel free to submit colors more than once, if yours are a bit variable like mine are! Just use the same name and (optionally) email address, so I can relate your responses to each other.

Future enhancements
Here's what I'd like to add to this app in the future:

  • Bookmarking, so you can save the colors you've entered and come back to them
  • Ability to upload your previously-downloaded data (more robust version of bookmarking)
  • A continuously-updating analysis page that shows statistics based on previously-submitted data (anonymized!)
  • Opacity toggles or other more nuanced formatting tweaks for the colors
  • A "colored text" mode that displays the letters themselves in color

Get involved
If you're interested in contributing to the app, submit an issue or PR on GitHub, or get in touch! I'd love to collaborate with you.

Note to @EconomiCurtis and the Shiny contest maintainers: I have not put this app in a public RStudio Cloud project. That's because the Contribute section collects form responses in Google Drive, so I have non-interactive auth set up with the googledrive and googlesheets packages. The auth token is stored in a directory that is hidden from git but is deployed with the app to I'm submitting the app anyway as per the instructions here, and I understand that it won't be able to be included in the Shiny Gallery.

Keywords: synesthesia, colors, neuroscience, letters, numbers, language, art, colourpicker, research, shinyjs
Shiny app:
Repo: GitHub - kaijagahm/greenT: A web app for exploring grapheme-color synesthesia
Blog posts: Part 1, Part 2
RStudio Cloud: NA (access token has to be kept private, but see GH repo)


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