New study identifies the QWERTY effect, or how typing shapes the meaning of words

Words spelled with more letters on the right of the keyboard are associated with more positive emotions than words spelled with more letters on the left, according to new research by cognitive scientists Kyle Jasmin of University College London and Daniel Casasanto of The New School for Social Research, New York. Their work shows, for the first time, that there is a link between the meaning of words and the way they are typed - a relationship they call the QWERTY effect. Their study is published online in Springer's journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

In the past, language was only spoken and therefore, only subject to the constraints on hearing and speaking. Now that language is frequently produced by the fingers – typing and texting – it is filtered through the keyboard i.e. through QWERTY. As people develop new technologies for producing language, these technologies shape the language they are designed to produce. What Jasmin and Casasanto's work shows is that widespread typing introduces a new mechanism by which changes in the meaning of can arise.

Some words are spelled with more letters on the right side of the keyboard, others with more letters on the left. In a series of three experiments, the researchers investigated whether differences in the way words are typed correspond to differences in their meanings.

They found that the meanings of words in English, Dutch and Spanish were related to the way people typed them on the QWERTY keyboard. Overall, words with more right-side letters were rated more positive in meaning than words with more left-side letters. This effect was visible in all three languages and was not affected by either word length, letter frequency or handedness.

The QWERTY effect was also found when people judged the meanings of fictitious words like "pleek," and was strongest in new words and abbreviations like "greenwash" and "LOL" coined after the invention of QWERTY.

Why should the positions of the keys matter? The authors suggest that because there are more letters on the left of the midline than on the right, letters on the right might be easier to type, which could lead to positive feelings. In other words, when people type words composed of more right-side letters, they have more positive feelings, and when they type words composed of more left-side letters, they have more negative feelings.

Linguists have long believed that the meanings of words are independent of their forms, an idea known as the "arbitrariness of the sign." But the QWERTY effect suggests the written forms of words can influence their meanings, challenging this traditional view.

Should parents stick to the positive side of their keyboards when picking baby names – Molly instead of Sara? Jimmy instead of Fred? According to the authors, "People responsible for naming new products, brands, and companies might do well to consider the potential advantages of consulting their keyboards and choosing the 'right' name."

More information: Jasmin K & Casasanto D (2012). The QWERTY effect: how typing shapes the meaning of words. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. DOI 10.3758/s13423-012-0229-7

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User comments

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Lurker2358
not rated yet Mar 07, 2012
Odd, a and e are the most common vowels and they are on the left side.

Yet "Happy" is a right side word.

"Sad" is a left side word.

"Funny" is right.

"Fear" is entirely left.

Wah!

"Wife" is left side :(.

Doesn't work.

"Breasts" and "Sex" are entirely left side.

As is "rest".

"orgasm" is left, though it starts and ends on the right.

Even "Pleasure" is left side.

epic fail.
RitchieGuy
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2012
Lurker. . .this study is garbage. Casasanto and Jasmin waste their time trying to convince the gullible that their right hand is more positive than their left hand for typing on a QWERTY keyboard, only because the right hand types on keys on the right side of the keyboard, and the left hand on the left side?
What utter nonsense. Unless you have only one hand or no hands at all, the two-handed method gives access to ALL letters, numbers and symbols, and therefore is the best method for conveying ideas. The article seems to be pointing an accusing finger at one of the most invaluable methods of communication and finding fault with it on a psychological level. It reminds me of nuns in Catholic schools forcing children to use their right hand for writing because using the left hand was considered the equal of evil. Something like that.
Are these people getting funding for this crap?

Eikka
not rated yet Mar 07, 2012
Or maybe it's because the enter key is on the right hand, which gives it a positive control over matters. It's always the right hand that ends a paragraph.

RitchieGuy
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2012
True. . .and the period, comma, colon, semicolon, etc. are right handed hits. But Lurker is correct; sex and breasts on the left side, but love is equally shared. ;)
I hope Casasanto and Jasmin don't advocate changing the keyboard around. Too late for me to learn a different QWERTY at my age. :)
sigfpe
not rated yet Mar 07, 2012
> Casasanto and Jasmin waste their time trying to convince the gullible that their right hand is more positive than their left hand for typing on a QWERTY keyboard

The original article reported a correlation and no mechanism is currently known. So the suggested mechanisms are no more than suggestions and are labelled as such. Clearly nobody is trying to point an "accusing finger" at keyboards.

> Even "Pleasure" is left side. epic fail.

The corpus in the original paper was at least a thousand words. Your hand-selected corpus of 10 words doesn't stack up very well by comparison. "epic fail" indeed.
A_Paradox
not rated yet Mar 08, 2012
RitchieGuy, I think these researchers had their eyes set firmly on this year's Ignobel prize; I'm not sure what category theirs will be in though.

Lurker.. the most common letter in my language is "<-Backspace"
:-)
RitchieGuy
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2012
LOL. . .yeah. . .and I use the delete key a lot when my spellcheck is on. But my main complaint is that smaller laptop keyboards are bad for big hands like mine. My wife has small delicate hands so it's no problem for her on her own QWERTY. My big PC keyboard was nice, even ergonomic.
Hmmm. . .now wondering if I can use that old one with my new laptop.