Where does your empathy come from?




See the two shapes above? Which is a bouba and which is a kiki?

If you are like an estimated 98% of the rest of the world, you would say that the image to the left is a “kiki” and the image to the right is a “bouba.”

In 2001, USCD psychologist Vilayanur Ramachandran presented these shapes to both American and Indian populations. Similar to the original research of this subject (Köhler, 1929; 1947), Ramacharndran found that almost the entire sample responded the same way, in that they assigned the image with the jagged edge as a “kiki”, and the image with the rounded edges as a “bouba.”

Why do most people respond this way?

Presumably, subjects tend to map the name “kiki” onto the figure on the left because the of the sharp inflection in both the pointy drawing and the harsh sound of the word, “kiki.” Similarly, the rounded shaping of the edges of the image on the right makes it more like the rounded auditory inflection of “bouba.” Ramachadran theorizes that the human brain is somehow able to extract abstract properties from shapes and sounds.

Click here to learn more about why this research is important to understanding empathy and how it impacts your relationship.

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