Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Qwerty Effect

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Qwerty Effect

Article excerpt

What makes you like one word more than another? Meaning is part of it: Most of us prefer words like bunny to words like ringworm. Age and poetic associations play a role, so that forthwith garners more warm fuzzies than monetize, and ineffable feels nicer than agreeance. Relative rarity probably makes a difference, too, with words like estivate ("to spend the summer, especially to spend the summer in a special place or manner, especially dormant") having an edge over prosaic everyday words such as faucet or return.

But a recent study by researchers at University College London, published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, has turned up another, unexpected influence: the "QWERTY effect." Named after the characters of the traditional keyboard layout, the QWERTY effect boosts the positive associations of words that include more letters typed with the right hand on a QWERTY keyboard. The effect extended even to made-up words, and it was found even in left-handed typists.

What's so great about words with letters from Y, H and N on over? The researchers believe they benefit from a psychological effect known as "fluency," according to which people view easy-to-use things more positively than hard-to-use things. Because most people type faster and more comfortably with their right hands, there's a slight increase in positive associations for right-hand-heavy words.

We tend to think that our connotative associations with words -- those not purely meaning-driven -- are still related to wordlike properties: etymologies, literary associations and so forth. But a growing body of research suggests that other factors play measurable roles in how we react to words.

A German study found a similar phenomenon to the QWERTY effect with numbers, as a result of association by predictive texting: People preferred the number 373863 (which spells friend in German) to the number 7245346 (which spells the German word for slime). The same researcher, Sascha Topolinski of the University of Wurzburg, found that people liked companies better when their phone numbers spelled out related words, like flower for a florist. …

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