When "bouba" equals "kiki": Cultural commonalities and cultural differences in sound-shape correspondences

Yi Chuan Chen, Pi Chun Huang, Andy Woods, Charles Spence

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20 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested that the Bouba/Kiki effect, in which meaningless speech sounds are systematically mapped onto rounded or angular shapes, reflects a universal crossmodal correspondence between audition and vision. Here, radial frequency (RF) patterns were adapted in order to compare the Bouba/Kiki effect in Eastern and Western participants demonstrating different perceptual styles. Three attributes of the RF patterns were manipulated: The frequency, amplitude, and spikiness of the sinusoidal modulations along the circumference of a circle. By testing participants in the US and Taiwan, both cultural commonalities and differences in sound-shape correspondence were revealed. RF patterns were more likely to be matched with "Kiki" than with "Bouba" when the frequency, amplitude, and spikiness increased. The responses from both groups of participants had a similar weighting on frequency; nevertheless, the North Americans had a higher weighting on amplitude, but a lower weighting on spikiness, than their Taiwanese counterparts. These novel results regarding cultural differences suggest that the Bouba/Kiki effect is partly tuned by differing perceptual experience. In addition, using the RF patterns in the Bouba/Kiki effect provides a "mid-level" linkage between visual and auditory processing, and a future understanding of sound-shape correspondences based on the mechanism of visual pattern processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26681
JournalScientific reports
Publication statusPublished - 2016 May 27

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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