July 20, 2023

Rare case: brain injury stirs creativity, synesthesia

Vanderbilt researchers report on a musician who acquired synesthesia — a merging of sensations — and improved creativity following a traumatic brain injury.

In Neurocase, Rima Abou-Khalil, PhD, and Lealani Mae Acosta, MD, MPH, report the case of a 66-year-old musician who acquired synesthesia and heightened creativity after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident.  

Having been thrown, helmeted, some 30 feet and landing in the hospital for three days, the man reported in follow-up visits that, when listening to music, he could see it printed on paper in his mind, and he had acquired a daily compulsion to compose music late into the night. Evaluation using the online Synesthesia Battery revealed a vision-sound synesthesia, an exceptionally high score for vividness of visual imagery, and perfect pitch.  

Mild deficits with attention, memory, word finding and impulsivity had resolved within three months following the accident.  

The late nights of compulsive creativity subsided within four months of the accident. Having later come across the music he’d written in this period, the man reported finding it “interesting and bizarre,” and he was unable to recall the composing of it. 

A literature search found only one previous report of synesthesia combined with heightened creativity following brain injury, in that instance, a stroke.