A team of scientists from the University of Granada in Spain has found that many of the individuals claiming to see the aura of people – traditionally called healers or quacks – actually present the neuropsychological phenomenon known as synesthesia.
The new study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, explains for the first time the esoteric phenomenon of the aura, a supposed energy field of luminous radiation surrounding a person as a halo, which is imperceptible to most human beings.
In neurological terms, synesthesia is due to cross-wiring in the brain of some people called synesthetes. In other words, synesthetes have more synaptic connections than “normal” people.
“These extra connections cause them to automatically establish associations between brain areas that are not normally interconnected”, said Prof. Gómez Milán, a lead author of the study. “Many healers claiming to see the aura of people might have this condition.”
In synesthetes, the brain regions responsible for the processing of each type of sensory stimuli are intensely interconnected. This way, synesthetes can see or taste a sound, feel a taste, or associate people with a particular color.
“Not all healers are synesthetes, but there is a higher prevalence of this phenomenon among them,” the scientists explained. “The same occurs among painters and artists, for example.”
In the new study, the team interviewed some synesthetes including the healer from Granada – Esteban Sánchez Casas, also known as El Santón de Baza.
“Many people attribute paranormal powers to El Santón, such as his ability to see the aura of people but, in fact, it is a clear case of synesthesia”, the researchers said.
The team found that El Santón has face-color synesthesia (the brain region responsible for face recognition is associated with the color-processing region); touch-mirror synesthesia (when the synesthete observes a person who is being touched or is experiencing pain, she/he experiences the same); high empathy (the ability to feel what other person is feeling), and schizotypy (certain personality traits in healthy people involving slight paranoia and delusions).
“These capacities make synesthetes have the ability to make people feel understood, and provide them with special emotion and pain reading skills”, the scientists said.
“Some healers have abilities and attitudes that make them believe in their ability to heal other people, but it is actually a case of self-deception, as synesthesia is not an extrasensory power, but a subjective and adorned perception of reality,” the researchers concluded.