Late Elementary/Middle School #1

This is a project that involved human subjects, so has some sections in the report that may not necessarily be required for all projects.

The Bibi-Kouka Effect

Abstract

This experiment was designed to test whether consonants or vowels have a greater effect in sound symbolism. Others have shown that some letters are seen as 'spiky' and some are seen as 'round'. I made two (nonsense) words. Each one had some 'spiky' letters and some 'round' letters- e.g. Bibi (B's are round and I's are spiky). I wanted to see which name subjects associated with a rounded shape and which name with a spiky shape.

I had two kinds of survey forms, each one with two shapes. One of the shapes was spiky and one was rounded. Each form had the numbers 5 to 15 to record children's ages and a line for people older than that. They also had a stick boy and a stick girl to record gender. On one type of survey form, the shapes were presented in a different order than on the other type. When I had a subject, I would ask him which shape was Bibi and which one was Kouka. I would write the responses under the shapes. I also collected age and gender. Then I gave them a sticker and a history of sound symbolism.

After I recorded my results, I realized that 74% of subjects had a consonant- dominated response. I tested this using statistical methods, and found that it was statistically significant. This leads me to believe that either the first letter of the word dominates the word or that certain consonants have a stronger impact than certain vowels.

 

Introduction and Purpose

Sound symbolism is the association in the brain of certain sounds with foreign concepts, including textures, shapes, and tastes. In the early 1900s, linguists thought that language was completely arbitrary, notably Ferdinand de Saussure, a famous Swiss linguist. (Robson, 2011) But in 1929, the German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler changed the entire world of linguistics. He did an experiment with two shapes, one with all pointed edges and straight lines, and the other with all curvy edges. He then told German children and adults that one of the shapes was Maluma[1], and the other was Takete (pronounced ma-LOO-ma and ta-KEE-tee). The vast majority of subjects called the rounded shape Maluma and the pointy shape Takete. Much later, in 2001, V.S. Ramachandran and E.M. Hubbard tried the experiment with Bouba and Kiki. (Ramachandran and Hubbard, 2001) Amazingly, 95 to 98 percent of subjects picked Bouba for the curvy shape and Kiki for the rounded one. There are also many other experiments, all proving that letters such as K, I, J, and Z seem spiky and bright, and letters like M, O, U, B, and L seem curvy and dark. (Anderson, 1998) A few experiments have even suggested that these letters represent tastes and temperatures. (Holland and Wertheimer, 1964) In my experiment, I will take the words Bouba and Kiki, and mix them up, to make the words Bibi and Kouka. As I mentioned earlier, the letters K and I are supposed to be 'spiky' and the letters M, O, U, and possibly A are rounded. I mixed up the words so that each word has some 'round' letters and some 'spiky' letters. I want to see which word subjects will see as 'spikier' and which one as 'rounder'. I became interested in this subject when I saw a Wikipedia article about the Bibi/Kouka Effect. In my research, I would like to investigate whether the vowel sounds or consonant sounds have a stronger impact on shape perception. For my preliminary research, I did some research on the internet. I also went to the library and did a preliminary survey (but the survey was not at the library). My hypothesis was that most responses would be vowel- dominated.

                                            

Materials

150+ sheets of paper (for surveys, script and informed consent)

A board to attract volunteers (with decorations, e.g. construction paper, markers, etc.)

60 stickers

Pens

Subjects age 5+

Markers

 

Procedure

Participants

My participants were between the ages of 75 and 5. I did not limit participation by ethnicity or gender.

Recruitment

I set up a booth at events at ****edited out for privacy***. I made a board telling all about my project and inviting people to participate.

Methods

The subjects had to give an answer to two questions. This took at most five minutes. Subjects were at the table for the time it took for them to answer the questions. I had a paper with two shapes, gender recorders, age recorders up to 15, and a line for over 15 on it, and a written script. One of the shapes was pointy. The other one was round. I said, "One of these shapes is Bibi and one of them is Kouka. If you were going to name them, which one would you name Bibi? (Subject points to shape.) Which one would you name Kouka? (Subject points to shape.) Thank you. Now can you please circle your age and gender on this paper? Thank you. Here is a reward for participating in my research." If the subject was over 15, I said "If your age is not on here, you can write it on this line," after saying "Please circle your age and gender on this paper." I recorded the results on the survey sheets. I made graphs on the computer based on those results.

Risk Assessment

Risks

There are minimal risks involved in my project.

Benefits

I gave a sticker and a history of sound symbolism to participants.

Protection of Privacy      

I collected the gender and age of participants. I did not collect the names of participants (except on Informed Consent form). The names are kept confidential and are kept separately from the data. Both the names and the data will be accessible to me and judges at the science fair. The names, ages and genders will not be openly displayed on my board, but they will still be accessible.

Informed Consent Process

The purpose of my research was displayed on my survey invitation board. I had a section on the board implying that my study was strictly voluntary. Since my study involved minors, their parents had to sign an informed consent form before their child’s participation.

Data Analysis

I calculated the percentage of people who called the round shape 'kouka' and the pointy shape 'bibi'. Then I used statistical methods to determine whether my hypothesis was correct.

Results and Discussion

This is a table of my results. Response 1 is that the pointy shape is Kouka and the rounded shape is Bibi (consonant- dominated). Response 2 is that the rounded shape is Kouka and the pointed shape is Bibi (vowel- dominated). Version 1 of sheet is with the rounded shape on the left and the pointy shape on the right. Version 2 of sheet is with the pointy shape on the left and the rounded shape on the right.

Response

Age

Gender

Number

Version of sheet:

1

25

F

101

2

1

49

F

102

1

1

38

M

103

2

1

8

M

104

2

2

13

M

105

1

2

10

M

106

2

1

14

M

107

1

2

12

M

108

2

1

9

M

109

1

2

11

F

110

2

1

10

M

111

1

1

49

F

112

2

2

13

M

113

1

1

68

M* (but S did not circle

gender, checked on consent form)

114

2

1

33

M

115

1

1

66

F

116

2

1

40

M

117

1

2

51

F

118

2

1

30

F

119

2

2

23

M

120

1

1

47

M

121

2

1

62

F

122

1

1

19

M

123

2

1

36

F

124

1

1

35

F

125

2

1

33

F

126

1

1

9

F

127

2

1

43

F

128

1

2

47

F

129

2

1

6

F

130

2

1

10

M

131

1

1

11

F

132

2

1

13

M

133

1

1

34

F

134

2

2

40

F

135

1


Here is a graph:

[Graph from Excel was included here.]

74% of participants had a consonant- dominated response. Therefore, my hypothesis that there would be more vowel- dominated responses than consonant- dominated responses was incorrect. Because the percentage of consonant- dominated responses was so high, I decided to see whether it could have happened by chance using statistical methods. Before my experiment, I decided that my p- value had to be less than 0.05 to be significant (for me to decide that it didn't happen by chance). My mother showed me how to calculate p- values on Excel, so I calculated mine. After two days of surveys, it was 0.001195.

After I had my results, I decided to further examine them. I sorted them by gender to see if there were gender preferences. I also sorted them by response to see if the form type made a difference, but these differences ended up being insignificant. This data will not be included in my results except on the chart above.

In further experiments, I might try to find out if any given factor (such as age, gender, race, etc.) changes the responses of subjects. I also might try to see if using words starting with vowels (such as Ibi and Ooba) changes the results of my experiment, because I think that the first letter of a word may dominate the whole word.

 

Conclusion

My hypothesis that vowel- dominated results would be more common was incorrect. 74% of subjects picked Bibi for the round shape and Kouka for the pointy one (consonant- dominated). The number of consonant- dominated responses was much larger than could have been by chance. My experiment does not have many practical applications, but it may help linguists to do research and/or help me pursue linguistics.

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to my mother and adult sponsor, for everything she has done to help me. I would also like to thank a lot of people at **********edited out for privacy************ for all they did to help me. Most of all, I would like to thank all of the people who did my survey.

 

Bibliography

Anderson, Earl R. A Grammar of Iconism. Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1998.

Davis, R. "The Fitness of Names to Drawings. A Cross- Cultural Study in Tanganyika." British Journal of Psychology 52:3 (1961): 259-268.

De Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistics. New York: Philosophical Library, 1959.

Holland, Morris K., and Michael Wertheimer. "Some Physiognomic Aspects of Naming, or, Maluma and Takete revisited." Perceptual and Motor Skills, 19 (1964): 111-117.

Köhler, Wolfgang. Gestalt Psychology. 2nd Edition.

Maurer, Daphne, Thanujeni Pathman, and Catherine J. Mondloch. "The Shape of Boubas: Sound-Shape Correspondence in Children and Adults."  Developmental Science 9:3 (2006): 316-322.

Ramachandram, V.S., and E.M. Hubbard. "Synaesthesia - A Window Into Perception, Thought, and Language." Journal of Consciousness Studies. 8:12 (2001): 3-34.

Robson, David. "Kiki or Bouba? In Search of Language's Missing Link." New Scientist. 17 Aug. 2011. Web. October 2011.

 



[1] Originally Baluma, but changed by Köhler in later experiments because of similarity to English 'balloon'.