Imagine that you’re presented with two sets of words.
Set one: Poly. Lint. Blimp. Jig. Think.
Set two: Waste. Zebra. Car. Save. Dare.
Which set do you prefer?
Now, try typing the words out. Did you change your mind?
According to a new study in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, most people would choose set one as having a more positive correlation than set two. Why? It has nothing to do with the words themselves.
It’s based on where the letters appear on a keyboard.
Cognitive scientist Kyle Jasmin and social psychologist Daniel Casasanto co-authored a paper, “The QWERTY Effect: How typing shapes the meanings of words,” which presents a striking theory: that the way in which letters are arranged on a keyboard has a small but significant effect on how individuals perceive the meaning of words they type.
Specifically, the QWERTY keyboard “may gradually attach more positive meanings to words with more letters located on the right side of the layout (everything to the right of T, G and B),” according to a review of the study in Wired.
Why? The result has to do with fluency, or how the difficulty of using a particular object affects perception. Generally, if a task is more difficult – pronouncing a name, for example – we tend to associate it with a negative correlation.
Conversely, the easier it is to manipulate an object, the more positive meaning we attach to it.
“People are faster to type with their right hand than their left hand,” Jasmin explained. “Combined with the fact that keyboard is asymmetrical, with more letters on left than the right, we had to know if there was correlation there.”
The researchers performed several experiments: analyzing 1,000-word indexes from English, Spanish, and Dutch, comparing their perceived positivity with their location on the QWERTY keyboard; analyzing words coined after the QWERTY keyboard’s invention; and determining how 800 typists rated the positive or negative associations of made-up words.
In all three experiments, right-sided words scored more positively than left-sided words.
Jasmin cautioned that the words’ literal meanings almost certainly outweigh their QWERTY-inflected associations, but pointed to the fact that the study is the first of its kind, and its findings raise interesting questions about the role that technology plays in shaping our understanding of the world.
“Technology changes words, and by association languages,” he said.
Think vs. Dare? Blimp vs. Zebra? You may never look at your keyboard the same way again.