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Bouba/kiki effect

January 10, 2010


Source: Wikipedia

The Bouba/Kiki Effect was first observed by German-American psychologist Wolfgang Köhler in 1929. In psychological experiments, first conducted on the island of Tenerife (in which the primary language is Spanish), Köhler showed forms similar to those shown at the right and asked participants which shape was called “takete” and which was called “baluba” (“maluma” in the 1947 version). Data suggested a strong preference to pair the jagged shape with “takete” and the rounded shape with “baluba”.

In 2001, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard repeated Köhler’s experiment using the words “kiki” and “bouba” and asked American college undergraduates and Tamil speakers in India “Which of these shapes is bouba and which is kiki?” In both the English and the Tamil speakers, 95% to 98% selected the curvy shape as “bouba” and the jagged one as “kiki”, suggesting that the human brain is somehow able to extract abstract properties from the shapes and sounds. Recent work by Daphne Maurer and colleagues has shown that even children as young as 2.5 (too young to read) show this effect.   

Ramachandran and Hubbard suggest that the kiki/bouba effect has implications for the evolution of language, because it suggests that the naming of objects is not completely arbitrary. The rounded shape may most commonly be named “bouba” because the mouth makes a more rounded shape to produce that sound while a more taut, angular mouth shape is needed to make the sound “kiki”. The sounds of a K are harder and more forceful than those of a B, as well. The presence of these “synesthesia-like mappings” suggest that this effect might be the neurological basis for sound symbolism, in which sounds are non-arbitrarily mapped to objects and events in the world.   

Individuals with autism do not show as strong a preference. Where average people agree with the typical result 90% of the time, individuals with autism only agree 60% of the time.



5 Comments leave one →
  1. Benjamin Steele permalink
    January 15, 2010 3:09 am

    I’ve heard the theory that all humans at one time had minds that operated with synesthesia and some think that infants still experience the world that way. I’ve also heard of the theory that language originated from a synesthesia experience of the world. However, as human culture evolved, humans began to learn how to experience the world more abstractly.

    There is research that correlates synesthesia with certain personality types. I know that Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary types are more prone to synesthesia. As I recall, thin boundary types correlate to MBTI iNtuion and Perceiving.

    That is interesting about those with autism. It would seem that their thinking pattern is opposite or somehow different than synesthesia. I was just watching a video on youtube about autism and the internet. The guy was discussing how autistics are talented to creating order within data. Synesthesia, on the other hand, would be a lack of order in that their is a lack of division between data (such as shape and sound).

    • February 4, 2010 5:58 pm

      Hi Benjamin Steele,

      Thanks for your comment. I like how you link different ideas and add interesting insight. I think synesthesia is a very intriguing concept.

      • Benjamin Steele permalink
        February 4, 2010 8:45 pm

        You’re welcome, zkairos. I’ve never studied synesthesia to any great degree. I’ve come across a few articles and interviews about it, but I’m sure it would be a worthy subject of further research. The most interesting part about it is how normal it is to the human mind.

  2. April 1, 2012 3:03 am

    Reblogged this on The BiPolarized and commented:
    Possibly the most interesting fact I ever found 🙂

  3. April 1, 2012 3:21 am

    This is such an interesting study. I started associating the shapes with the names when I starting reading this post. The autism find is quite the intriguing one. I have a friend whose nephew is autistic. That little boy loves his music. It calms him as he sits there are walks around with headphones on to keep him focused. When not listening to his music, he can get distracted to the point of not hearing anyone talking to him. I have no idea what is going on in his brain during this time, but I’ve often thought that he’s analyzing the world in a way that we (those without autism) cannot even understand. I see it like he’s breaking down the world into details that we can’t maybe even see. I’m not sure if he’s ever been given this test, but if he has I would be curious to see how he’d view the shapes.

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