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."


Explore further

Texting affects ability to interpret words

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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Citation: New study identifies the QWERTY effect, or how typing shapes the meaning of words (2012, March 7) retrieved 18 June 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-03-qwerty-effect-words.html
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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.

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.


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.

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"
:-)

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