Psychic powers that enable people to see auras around others may simply be a quirk of the brain

Supposed psychic powers that enable people to see auras around others may simply be a quirk of the brain, according to a University College London (UCL) study of a rare form of synaesthesia where some people see colourful ‘auras’ around their loved ones.

The case study, reported in the October issue of Cognitive Neuropsychology, shows how some people can experience colours in response to people they know or words that evoke emotions – a condition known as emotion-colour synaesthesia.

Dr Jamie Ward, author of the study, says: “A popular notion is that some people have a magical ability to detect the hidden emotions of others by seeing a colourful ‘aura’ or energy field that they give off. Our study suggests a different interpretation. These colours do not reflect hidden energies being given off by other people, rather they are created entirely in the brain of the beholder.”

In the study, Dr Ward of UCL’s Psychology Department documented a woman known as GW who could see colours like purple and blue in response to people she knew or their names when read to her. Words triggered a colour which spread across her whole field of vision, whilst people themselves appeared to have coloured ‘auras’ projected around them. For example, “James” triggered pink, “Thomas” black and “Hannah” blue.

A similar test using 100 words rated on a scale of 1 to 7 for their emotional impact showed that highly emotive words such as fear or hate also triggered colours. Words associated with positive emotions tended to elicit pink, orange, yellow, and green, whereas words associated with negative emotions triggered brown, grey, and black.

Whilst it is quite common to describe people or emotions metaphorically in terms of colours, GW actually reported vividly seeing them. Indeed, when “James” (a pink word) was written in the wrong colour (e.g. blue), her reaction times were slowed.

Synaesthesia is a condition found in 1 in 2000 people in which stimulation of one sense produces a response in one or more of the other senses. For example, people with synaesthesia may experience shapes with tastes or smells with sounds. It is thought to originate in the brain and some scientists believe it might be caused by a cross-wiring in the brain, for example between centres involved in emotional processing and smell perception. Synaesthesia is known to run in families.

GW, 19-year old with an IQ of 112, became aware of her condition around the age of seven but refrained from telling her family or friends. In GW’s case, people acquired a synaesthetic colour as she got to know them and the colour was then triggered whenever she was presented with the person’s name or face.

In contrast, a case discovered in the 1930s documents a seven year old boy who also associated colours with people, but saw strangers in bright orange with a black outline which faded to a mild blue and finally pink when he got to know them.

Dr Jamie Ward continues: “The ability of some people to see the coloured auras of others has held an important place in folklore and mysticism throughout the ages. Although many people claiming to have such powers could be charlatans, it is also conceivable that others are born with a gift of synaesthesia.

“GW does not believe she has mystical powers and has no interest in the occult, but it is not hard to imagine how, in a different age or culture, such an interpretation could arise.

“Rather than assuming that people give off auras or energy fields that can only be detected by rigged cameras or trained seers, we need only assume that the phenomenon of synaesthesia is taking place.”


  1. Jamie Jamie United States says:

    If this study is accurate. Can you tell me how is it, that a person can not only see peoples auras. But can see them come away from the person and become a form on its own. And then return around the person and fade away. Also does this study show that not only can some people see the aura of a human being. But also objects. Would this sight also be know as synaesthesia.

  2. dan dan United Kingdom says:

    I'm 19 and work at a funeral directors and I can see 'auras' around people and things. People's auras change with every different thought. I dont see colours though, just different frequencies/thicknesses and light and dark. I've also showen my friend that he can see 'energy' too. I dont think you need 'training', every one probably sees this energy, it's just weather - have they ever looked at it before?.

    • sam sam Saudi Arabia says:

      Hi Hello  I've been seeing "Aura's" since i was about 9 or 10 years old. Simply not studied to have thee ability. It came naturally. and just wanna know that what can a person do with the help of this aura vision can it help in helaing of desease.if somebody know more about mind siences and aura please contact with me through email.i just ignored it now after reading all cooments just wanna know what canhelp aura vision??

  3. Toto Toto United States says:

    In this article, a doctor, scientist offers an explanation that it is cross-wiring of the brain and gives it a specific medical name, a condition, estimated 1 in 2000.  

    Why is that explanation better than the one of people who see auras?

  4. kiara kiara United States says:

    I'm 18 years old and I never knew what an aura was until I got of age to look up the meaning. I've been seeing "Aura's" since i was about 9 or 10 years old. Simply not studied to have thee ability. It came naturally. But does that make us people that can see them different from others? Or why can we see Aura's?

  5. DaeDae DaeDae United States says:

    “Rather than assuming that people give off auras or energy fields that can only be detected by rigged cameras or trained seers, we need only assume that the phenomenon of synaesthesia is taking place.”

    I don't agree with this comment. Have you ever thought that maybe science can't explain everything. I would rather assume that this is a special power that can't be explained and work with those who are fortunate enough to be able to tap into it to harness its positive benefits.

    • buddu buddu United States says:

      What kind of work would you want to do with these kind of people? No one wants to be a rat and locked in a cage just cause they have a abnormal gift... If your intentions are all good I might be able to help out I can do more then this...

  6. Tracy Tracy United States says:

    This study made me mad! I am really glad that someone is looking into this! This study did not seem to be vary extensive at all.

    I have been seeing auras since I was 6. At this age, I realized that I was the only one seeing them. I can look at a stranger and see color auras. It doesn't have to be someone I know.

    No aura is specific to each individual. Auras are always changing on a person. I have seen two auras on one person before. The colors where green and blue. The colors would bounce off each other.

    There are auras around chairs, doors, any non-living item, but those are clear auras that goes around the object. It looks like heat off a road on a hot day.

    I hope I don't sound like I'm venting. I would just hate for the rest of us that see auras to be misunderstood.

    I can't explain why auras work! I just know there are somethings you can't explain. I would LOVE to see someone actually do a study on auras that sees auras them self!


    • suzy suzy United States says:

      I too see auras on people. People I know and people I don't. You mentioned the "clear" auras you see aound objects. Well I see that too. But its a different energy you're seeing. When I see this its spirits trying to manifest into form.  I have seen this in the shape if a person many times. So when you see this pay close attention. Someone may need your help.

    • tsylor tsylor United States says:

      I was with a friend earlier and they told me I had 2 auras blue and green but were flowing in harmony with each other side by side idk if it helps but if u do hear anything can u notify me please.

  7. Jenny Jenny United States says:

    Well I am 13 years old and I've been seeing auras for about a year now and I am really confused about why I can see them with such control all I do is focus on a person and in a mere few seconds they are there and bright I just don't understand is this a gift?

  8. mogalla mogalla Canada says:

    Jenny, yes it is a gift, probably that you can do other things as well.

  9. Luke Luke United States says:

    Well being that recently it was found at the hearthmath institute that the heart gives out a field of electromagnetic energy, may be scientific proof that people DO have auras and it is not synaesthesia.

  10. Charlotte Charlotte Ireland says:

    I have started to see aura around the rooms I am in and also around my boyfriend who does not believe in the Spirit life. Does it mean I have a psychic gift? I don't want to waste my gift if so.

  11. precious precious New Zealand says:

    I've been able to see auras since I was young and everytime I do, they give off "vibes" like emotions,ect.Is that natural?

  12. Tiara Tiara United States says:

    I'm able to see auras and I don't have to stair to see them if I was to look at someone or pass someone I'm able to see it it's like it my sight at first I thought something was wrong with my eyes.. I see auras first thing when I wake up,the only color I'm seeing is white i dont what to do or how to go about thing ... And when I'm out side I see auras within the sky and I'm able to see really really far...

  13. Adrianna H Adrianna H Canada says:

    I've been seeing auras since I could remember, my "gift" is not very strong, since I can only see the outter layer (There are seven layers, apparently) I've read books and done some research over the years. The colours that I see are wavey and sometimes very weak or sometimes very bright. I only see it around living things. Seeing auras has saved me by avoiding dangerous situations. I also find that when I'm around individuals that have other abilities my abilities ignite.

    Words and Shapes cannot trigger colours, and that I think is what this article is about.
    People who associate words with colours may have synaesthesia.

    I thought this article was interesting, but it is narrowed research because it doesn't explain people who actually see these human magnetic feilds...

  14. Barry Wilkinson Barry Wilkinson United States says:

    I have been seeing colors on and off for a long time now..I avoid going near grave yards because i see like an outline of a person but no one is there...If I am near a powerline I can taste it in my mouth..And please I do not like magnetic things near me...I was in LasVegas couple times and had strangest think ever with colors around a person, I had to walk up to that person and get their attention....wierd cause i got a very disturbing magnetic feeling or field coming from that person made me feel right off that that person was not from our world....wierd...but I guess we all are...

  15. Michelle Holderfield Michelle Holderfield United States says:

    I've been seeing "aura's" around people since I can remember. They colors are always changing. They change when a person is uncomfortable, sad happy or even content. Every person has what I call a soul color. It shows the true intentions of a person. Its the color that is closest to the body.  When a person is lying or being deceiving the colors are dark. When they are honest and true the colors are more vibrant. All other color that comes after or is above the "soul color" shows different emotions. Which is probably why they are always changing. My "sight" if you not triggered by words sounds or shapes or anything like that. It's always there.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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