Tasting shapes and words
Spence C., Gallace A.
We report a series of quick and simple paper-and-pencil demonstrations illustrating the reliable crossmodal correspondences that people have between commercially-available food and drink items and both visually-presented shapes and nonsense words. The foodstuffs tested in this study included still and sparkling water, Brie cheese and cranberry juice, and two kinds of chocolate. Participants were given paper-based line scales, anchored at either end with a nonsense word or simple outline shape. They were instructed to taste the foodstuffs and to indicate whether their perception of the flavour matched more one or other of the items anchoring the scales, and then mark the appropriate point on the scale. The results highlight the fact that certain of these foodstuffs (sparkling water, cranberry juice, and Maltesers - chocolate-covered malt honeycomb) were better associated with angular shapes and high-pitched meaningless words, such as 'kiki' and 'takete', whose pronunciation requires sharp inflection of the mouth. By contrast, still water, Brie, and Caramel Nibbles (chocolate-covered caramel) were all more strongly associated with rounded shapes and softer sounding, lower-pitched pseudo-words, such as 'bouba' and 'maluma'. These results, which build on the classic literature on 'sound symbolism', have both theoretical and applied implications: On the one hand, they demonstrate that the phenomenon of sound symbolism extends beyond the visual modality, by showing that speech sounds carry meaning in the domain of flavour, and in terms of the oral-somatosensory attributes of foodstuffs as well. As a consequence, these results may also be useful on an applied level in terms of helping companies to design novel brand names and graphics for the packaging of their food and drink items that best connote the likely attributes of the product within. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.