Ideasthesia "can be defined as a phenomenon in which activation of concepts produces phenomenal experience". The examples vary from the Kiki/Bouba phenomenon applied to (possibly) everyone to actually seeing colors in graphemes like in synesthetic people. According to the theory, "there is a strong similarity between semantics and sensations".
(source: ieet.org)

Figure: Sensation vs. meaning balance shown for hypothetical pieces of entertainment (red), art (yellow) and science (white), as they are broken down into their components. Only an art piece is consistently located in the gray area.

Given that this theory is pretty young (first creation in Wikipedia was in 2012 by presumably one avid contributor on the field, based on their username), I wonder if there are any review or critic on the theory. What challenges does it need to answer? Which theory is it incongruent with?

• Wikipedia: Ideathesia
• TED-Ed: Ideasthesia: How do ideas feel? - Danko Nikolić
• IEEE: Danko Nikolić, Ideasthesia and Art

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ How is this a 'theory'? Ideasthesia seems to be a definition. Are you asking about the validity of a specific experiment which lead to the introduction/usefulness of the definition? If so, which? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Aug 15, 2017 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @AliceD and StevenJeuris, how about asking "Is there an evident about a strong similarity between semantics and sensations?"? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Aug 15, 2017 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ Multiple theories are related to the concept of ideasthesia. This term was introduced because of a theory that what underlies synesthesia are concepts and thus, synesthesia occurs through such a concept-sensing mechanisms. Therefore, ideasthesia is related to a theory. After that another theory emerged--that our sensations in general are conceptual in their nature, not only those in synesthesia. Therefore, this would be the second theory associated with ideasthesia. Finally, also a third theory emerged, that of the balance between ideas (concepts) and sensations in art. $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2019 at 13:54

1 Answer 1


Short answer
Ideaesthesia does not comprise a theory or even a hypothesis. It is merely a term meaning 'sensing concepts' or 'perceiving meaning'.

As Steven Jeuris also comments, ideaesthesia is not a theory, it is simply a term. It is a combination of two Greek words, namely 'concept' or 'idea', and the other is 'sensation', or 'aisthesis'. In translation, ideaesthesia means sensing concepts or perceiving meaning (source: Danko Nikolić).

It it used to denote phenomena as the Kiki/Bouba effect (Milan et al., 2013; Martinez & Milan, 2015) and synesthesia (Jürgens & Nikolić, 2012) as you write. These phenomena are associated with assigning shapes to names, and colors to graphemes (and the likes), respectively. As far as I can see, ideaesthesia does not explain anything, it is not an observation, it is not a hypothesis, let alone a theory. It is a term used to group phenomena where people associate seemingly unrelated concepts.

Further, for what it's worth, a cursory Google Scholar search on 'ideaesthesia' yields few hits (82), and those hits that pop up, in part referenced here, point sometimes to questionable journals or to irrelevant papers. I would hence use the term cautiously as it doesn't seem to be widely used.

- Jürgens & Nikolić, Translat Neurosci (2012); 3(1): 22-7
- Martinez & Milan, V Int Conf Synesthesia: Science and Art. Alcalà la Real de Jaén. España. 16–19th May 2015
- Milan et al., J Consciousness Studies, 20(1-2

  • $\begingroup$ According to the Ideasthesia and Art article, there are at least two theories related to the term: "theory of ideasthesia states that concepts precede sensory-like experiences in synesthesia", and "ideasthesia balance theory states a particular relationship between the depth of meaning and the intensity of sensation". Do you have any evaluation on these? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Aug 25, 2017 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ My understanding is that ideaesthesia is not about concept-to-concept association, but rather about concept-to-sensory-experience induction. Originally, these sensory effects were believed to be induced from seemingly unrelated sensory inputs (sensory-to-sensory), but later discovery showed that at least some such effects sprung from semantic activation, hence the impetus to form a new word. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jan 9, 2022 at 4:12

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