Researchers in Spain have found that at least some of the individuals claiming to see the so-called aura of people actually have the neuropsychological phenomenon known as “synesthesia” (specifically, “emotional synesthesia”). This might be a scientific explanation of their alleged ability.
This is the first time that a scientific explanation has been provided for 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.
To carry out this study, the researchers interviewed some synesthetes including a ‘healer’ from Granada, “Esteban Sánchez Casas,” known as “El Santón de Baza”.
Many local people attribute “paranormal powers” to El Santón, because of his supposed ability to see the aura of people “but, in fact, it is a clear case of synesthesia,” the researchers explained.
Source: Science Daily
Not much to go on in this piece but an interesting idea. It’s fairly obvious that people who claim to see auras have a different idea about life and energy and they see it all connected. It does not explain how the aura is seen or how we might understand what they are experiencing. I don’t have access to the research paper. While there are many suggestive words about the reality of auras and healing in the piece, it appears the authors are on the conventional side by saying:
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.
Update: (7-May-2012) More on this from Dr. Steve Novella.
And we see that there is a major mess up going on here.
The researchers analyzed the subjective reports of four people with face-color synaesthesia. They then compared this to reports and descriptions of people seeing alleged auras. They concluded:
“The discrepancies found suggest that both phenomena are phenomenologically and behaviourally dissimilar.”
That means they are probably not the same thing. Of course this is a small study, and is therefore not the final word on this notion. However, there is no evidence for the synaesthesia-aura hypothesis. It is simply a new hypothesis without any evidence. The authors did a preliminary test of this hypothesis and found it to be lacking, so it is probably not worth pursuing further. Other researchers may decide to revisit the question, now that it has been raised, but until then all we have is a hypothesis that failed to get out of the gate.
Amazingly, the media has universally (as far as I have seen so far) misreported this item and have come to the opposite conclusion. Science Daily writes:”Synesthesia May Explain Healers Claims of Seeing People’s ‘Aura’”. Other outlets remove the “may”, and some even substitute the word “prove.”
This is an example of terrible science news reporting, and a major weakness of the current internet-based news infrastructure. It seems that the many news outlets reporting this story are mostly just reprinting one original source – a news report from the University of Granada. Somehow they got the story exactly wrong (erring on the side of sensationalism), and this error has been propagated throughout countless science news outlets and paranormal websites throughout the web. No one, apparently, clicked through to the original article. The article is behind a paywall, but the freely available abstract plainly states the phenomena are not the same.
Translation error happened somewhere along the line. This is a hazard of bad science reporting. Curiously, it took this story in a whole other direction.