Scientific evidence proves why healers see the 'aura' of people

May 4, 2012

Researchers in Spain have 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" (specifically, "emotional synesthesia"). This might be a scientific explanation of their alleged "virtue". 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.

The study was conducted by the University of Granada Department of Experimental Psychology Óscar Iborra, Luis Pastor and Emilio Gómez Milán, and has been published in the prestigious journal Consciousness and Cognition. This is the first time that a scientific explanation is provided on 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 (synesthetes); in other words, synesthetes present more synaptic connections than "normal" people. "These extra connections cause them to automatically establish associations between brain areas that are not normally interconnected", professor Gómez Milán explains. Many healers claiming to see the aura of people might have this condition.

The case of the "Santón de Baza"

The University of Granada researchers remark that "not all healers are synesthetes, but there is a higher prevalence of this phenomenon among them. The same occurs among painters and artists, for example". To carry out this study, the researchers interviewed some synesthetes as the healer from Granada "Esteban Sánchez Casas", known as "El Santón de Baza".

Many people attribute "paranormal powers" to El Santón, such as his ability to see the of people "but, in fact, it is a clear case of synesthesia", the researchers explain. El Santón presents 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, s/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 researchers explain.

In the light of the results obtained, the researchers remark the significant "placebo effect" that healers have on people, "though some healers really have the ability to see people's auras and feel the pain in others due to synesthesia". 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 state.

Explore further: Brain study explores what makes colors and numbers collide

More information: doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.11.010

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not rated yet May 04, 2012
In retrospect, it should have been pretty obvious!
5 / 5 (2) May 07, 2012
What if our (and these researches') brains wired 'incorrectly', but these healers' brains have more precise vision of reality because of synesthesia? Any talented person has some kind of unusual ability that other 'ordinary' people do not have. Why these researchers consider that 'synesthesia' is a disorder? It may be considered like a talent, like a 'super-ability. In some time they can develop pills to 'treat' this as well as other unusual talents.
not rated yet May 10, 2012
What if our (and these researches') brains wired 'incorrectly', but these healers' brains have more precise vision of reality because of synesthesia? Any talented person has some kind of unusual ability that other 'ordinary' people do not have. Why these researchers consider that 'synesthesia' is a disorder? It may be considered like a talent, like a 'super-ability. In some time they can develop pills to 'treat' this as well as other unusual talents.

The vast majority of the scientific establishment has regarded claims of such abilities as bogus for a long time. Eventually, I think, these abilities will be regarded as gifts. As more study is done, I think these abilities will be found more prevalent than they think. After all, they simply tested someone known for healing ability. IMHO, they should also test people who are not known for their ability. Our modern society considers this taboo. 200 years ago, it was widely accepted. The more we learn, the more we find we knew.
not rated yet May 10, 2012
"feel the pain in others due to synesthesia"...I guess that is the empathy circuitry gone hyperactive?

My first guess for the aura would have been "undiagnosed eyesight problems coupled with a good dose of imagination". But synesthesia does make sense.

BTW if this synesthesic ability to see the aura of a person was of PRACTICAL value we should hire those people to go around ACTUALLY healing all the people in our hospitals. I do not think they heal much of anyone although some people may well 'feel better' afterwards purely because of a placebo effect.
not rated yet May 11, 2012
Trying to explain a _possible_ phenomena within the constraints of our limited knowledge should not be debunked until we have all of the variables. In this case, not enough is known to say whether or not synesthesia is the root cause and not simply a correlation.
not rated yet May 16, 2012
Having been there since childhood I am now very glad that someone took the time and the effort to study all this from a simple scientific point of view. I always refused the "spiritual" and/or "special powers" explanation because it does not make any sense.
not rated yet May 16, 2012
No, no, no, no, no, no!
The research found the exact opposite of what the headline of this article claims.
The last line of the paper's abstract says the following about "alleged auric phenomena" and synaesthesia: "The discrepancies found suggest that both phenomena are phenomenologically and behaviourally dissimilar." In other words, they concluded that synaesthesia is *NOT* a plausible explanation for people claiming to see auras. This implies that the author of this article didn't even read the abstract of the original study, and it serves as another example of the terrible state of modern science reporting.
Steve Novella wrote a good article about the nearly universal misreporting of the study on NeuroLogica Blog, dated May 7 2012.

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