Bouba/kiki effect  

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The Bouba/kiki effect (1929)
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The Bouba/kiki effect (1929)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Bouba/Kiki Effect is the name of a psychological effect first observed by German-American psychologist Wolfgang Köhler in 1929.

In a series of 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 angular shape with "takete" and the rounded amoeba-like 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 curvilinear 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.

The effect has also been shown to emerge when the words to be paired are existing first names, suggesting that some familiarity with the linguistic stimuli does not eliminate the effect. A recent study showed that individuals will pair names such as "Molly" with round silhouettes, and names such as "Kate" with sharp silhouettes. Moreover, individuals will associate different personality traits with either group of names (e.g., easygoingness with "round names"; determination with "sharp names"). This may hint at a role of abstract concepts in the 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, contrary to what the French linguist de Saussure in his canonical Course in General Linguistics (1916) stated.

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". Alternatively, the distinction may be between coronal or dorsal consonants like /k/ and labial consonants like /b/. 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.

More recently research indicated that the effect may be a case of ideasthesia. Ideasthesia is defined as a phenomenon in which activations of concepts (inducers) evoke perception-like experiences (concurrents). The name comes from the Greek idea and aisthesis, meaning "sensing concepts" or "sensing ideas", and was introduced by Danko Nikolić.

The amoeba-like 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 who have autism do not show as strong a preference. Neurotypical individuals agree with the standard result 88% of the time, while individuals with autism agree only 56% of the time.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bouba/kiki effect" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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