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When Sandpaper Is ‘Kiki’ and Satin Is ‘Bouba’: an Exploration of the Associations Between Words, Emotional States, and the Tactile Attributes of Everyday Materials

In: Multisensory Research
Authors:
Roberta Etzi 1Department of Psychology, University of Milano–Bicocca, Milan, Italy
2NeuroMI — Milan Center for Neuroscience, Milan, Italy

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Charles Spence 3Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University, Oxford, UK

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Massimiliano Zampini 4CIMeC, Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy
5Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy

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Alberto Gallace 1Department of Psychology, University of Milano–Bicocca, Milan, Italy
2NeuroMI — Milan Center for Neuroscience, Milan, Italy

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Over the last decade, scientists working on the topic of multisensory integration, as well as designers and marketers involved in trying to understand consumer behavior, have become increasingly interested in the non-arbitrary associations (e.g., sound symbolism) between different sensorial attributes of the stimuli they work with. Nevertheless, to date, little research in this area has investigated the presence of these crossmodal correspondences in the tactile evaluation of everyday materials. Here, we explore the presence and nature of the associations between tactile sensations, the sound of non-words, and people’s emotional states. Samples of cotton, satin, tinfoil, sandpaper, and abrasive sponge, were stroked along the participants’ forearm at the speed of 5 cm/s. Participants evaluated the materials along several dimensions, comprising scales anchored by pairs of non-words (e.g., Kiki/Bouba) and adjectives (e.g., ugly/beautiful). The results revealed that smoother textures were associated with non-words made up of round-shaped sounds (e.g., Maluma), whereas rougher textures were more strongly associated with sharp-transient sounds (e.g., Takete). The results also revealed the presence of a number of correspondences between tactile surfaces and adjectives related to visual and auditory attributes. For example, smooth textures were associated with features evoked by words such as ‘bright’ and ‘quiet’; by contrast, the rougher textures were associated with adjectives such as ‘dim’ and ‘loud’. The textures were also found to be associated with a number of emotional labels. Taken together, these results further our understanding of crossmodal correspondences involving the tactile modality and provide interesting insights in the applied field of design and marketing.

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