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By on June 2, 2011, with 41 Comments

I know this question seems a bit arbitrary, but if you had to choose, which of these shapes below should be called a Bouba and which should be called a Kiki?

If you’re like 98% of people, you said the pointy one on the left is a Kiki and the blobish one on the right seems like a Bouba. These studies show that the human mind has a tendency to extract certain features from things that seem as seemingly neutral as shapes and sounds.

There’s something about the spikiness of the one on the left that just begs for a more piercing word like “Kiki.” On the other hand, the soft curves of the one on the right demand a softer, gentler word like “Bouba.”

While this matter isn’t technically an illusion, it does shine an interesting light on the way we perceive things, which is exactly why illusions fascinate us so much. Next time you see an illusion that really blows your mind, consider how the mind perceives the shapes and lines in the image and ask yourself, is this a Kiki or a Bouba?

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting! I automatically assigned Kiki to the sharper one and Bouba to the rounder one – and I automatically knew that was the illusion! I love these kind of illusions that are not a matter of sight, but of the mind.

    Very clever. You’re doing a wonderful job, Jill!

  • HaloDUDE80

    k00l

  • Dont Worry About It

    If you notice Bouba has all round letters while Kiki doens’t, that is why we name it that.

    • Sami

      @Don’t Worry About It: And to clarify, I guess you mean Kiki is sharper to pronounce and Bouba is softer to pronounce, rather than pointing out the letter shapes are sharper in Kiki and softer in Bouba.

      Either way it’s the same, but I think it has more to do with how we pronounce the word (even in our heads when we read them) rather than the shape of the letter.

      Very good point nevertheless.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Tasker/100000549939969 Mark Tasker

      Not only does Bouba have round letters – Kiki has spiky letters.

    • IAMCHEESE

      That’s actually really cool! OMG I actually knew the left one was kiki and the right one was bouba!

  • Hailey

    i think the one with the pointed edges is a Kiki, then the other one is a bouba…lol

  • josephine

    Interesting…I actually kinda like this type of illusion!

  • cutsie

    cute but not exactly an illusion

  • z2d4th

    I am belong to 2% population.

  • kiksy

    This was mentioned on QI.. brilliant program! the human mind is pretty fascinating

  • Phillip

    It was kind of spoiled in the introduction. I would like to see the explanation hidden. This reminds me of The Odd Couple, where the slob should’ve been named Unger and the clean one should’ve been Madison.

  • DEWEY

    They both look like “splats” to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Haviland/100000657164709 Richard Haviland

    I was right with my first thought; Kiki, sharp, Bouba soft. The amazing human mind again. Than you Jill……….:)

    By the way, where did our pictures go???

  • donaldtrump

    where’s the birth certificate ? i need proof.

  • Jonathan

    I guess my mind works differently. After pronouncing the words how I thought they would sound. I associated the Bouba with and explosive sound like “BaBoom” and the Kiki made me think of “kitty kitty”. The spiky one looked more like an explosion and the other one didn’t really look like anything. But I associated the jagged one with the “Baboom” sound.

    @DEWEY.. I agree that they just look like splats too.

    • magpiez

      I ended up with bouba for the one on the right but for different reasons. I didnt care how the words sounded I wasnt at all concerned about that I did notice that the kiki word was full of sharp angles like one shape and the other had rounded letters like the other shape but I ignored that as well, I tried to think of words that might be associated with the names. Bouba word brought bulbous to mind and kiki brought Kink to mins so I associated bouba with the rounded bulbous features of one and kiki with kinks/angles of the other.

  • Jake Karpinski

    I mixed it up the first time.

  • Whoami

    Very Interesting illusion! And your are doing an awesome job Jill! Different from Vurdlak’s entries, but, I like both! :-)

  • Tara Upchurch

    I did just opposite. I don’t know what that says about me but the rounded one I thought of as Kiki because it made me think of a kinda flighty ditzy girl and Bouba to the sharp one as it struck me as male and aggressive and “Bouba” made me think immediately of the name “Bubba.”

    Sharp= aggressive= Male= Bouba
    Rounded= soft= Female= Kiki

  • Mary

    I think I was influenced by the written word, not the sound. I agree with the person who said that the Bouba could be said explosively. But I thought the k looked like the sharp shapes and the Bouba letters were all rounded.

  • Kat Stuart

    I ended up having Bouba as the sharp pointed one and KiKi as the round one. It was an association, first word, first shape type of thing.

  • Meeeeeeeeeeee

    Interesting, I immediately assigned kiki to the sharp one and bouba to the blob one due to poetry being what I am currently doing in poetry.
    Kiki has cacophony, which is a harsh sound, and bouba has euphony, which is a pleasant sound.
    There, I just explained the situation in more nerdy terms. :D

  • me123987645

    bouba and kiki both suit the left to me, but not the right.

  • Amy

    Oh! I was watching QI last night and this was on it!! But last night when Stephen Fry asked which was Kiki and which was Bouba I thought the spiky was Kiki and the blob was Bouba.

  • ZL123

    Bouba sounds like blob…

  • John

    Great job Jill!!!! Keep it up. I admire your encouragement of thought, and the addition of the statistics, encouraging further though as to why the great majority gave their answer. It all relies on the individuals fastest method of association. Anybody who is interested in learning about these association methods can contact me at jhn_spargo@msn.com. please attach a copy of the image, as well as “Kiki or Bouba?” in the subject line. I’m sure you will be amazed at the information already stored in your own mind, that which you have no idea is already built into your brain just waiting for its release.

  • Defe55

    Very cool. The minute you asked, I knew where it was going, but I still fell into the stereotypical rut. Cool “illusion” :)

  • Barbara Barron

    Very interesting I’m trying it out on the family.

  • Adam

    If you ask me, and no offense btw, just about any B-name sounds fat and bloated. Birtha, Beatrice, Becky, Beth…etc usually wouldn’t bring the image of a slim girl into the human mind.

  • Brandon

    Hey there. I actually did my master’s on this phenomenon and found that it is not due to the orthographic effect (ie that KIKI has jagged letters and BOUBA has rounded letters). It is a sound symbolic effect. The harsher broad-band sound pattern of stop consonants such as K T are associated with the jagged imagery because they share the same affective valence and consonants such as L M and N tend to have an ordered sound pattern with voicing (vocal fold vibration) and therefore are associated with the smooth imagery. Other researchers have found that jagged images cause negative affect and smooth images cause positive affect so I think the matching of low level affect is key.

  • Kimon Frousios

    Is it just a matter of sound or is it again visual?

    “K” bears a lot more similarity to the pointy star and “B” shares the basic attributes of the blobby thing.

    Also, does the presence of the “k” sound in “cut” (associated with sharp objects) and the two “b”s being also present in “blob” have any influence on the decision? I guess we’d need someone who doesn’t speak english and uses a completely different alphabet to test that.

    The mind is very powerful at drawing associations. I bet there are multiple parameters that influence the decision.

  • Kimon Frousios

    bowl, ball, boulder, blob, bow, globe, orb, bulb…

    “B” and “L” together with a round-mouth-shaped vowel are all repeat offenders when it comes to round things.

    Bouba also makes me think of an obese person, so rather round features.

  • Nick

    Hmm.. I selected Bouba as the sharp one. I think because it seems like a more masculine name, where the feminine Kiki was softer.

  • cheychey

    opposite for me.
    b is left k is right

  • Emily

    I remember this! It’s in the book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” Pretty awesome how the human mind works, isn’t it?

  • codie

    Bouba assiciated with round letters(b,o) in spelling of the word, Kiki associated with pointed letters (k,i) in word.

  • Devam Doshi

    Jill you also submit great illusions like Vurldlak..Keep it up! :)

  • Esther

    i thought that the sharp one should be bouba and the round one should be kiki. cuz i’ve never heard of ‘bouba’. and the sharp one makes me think that it’s more artistic and rare which suits bouba. whereas kiki is a name which is more common, more down to earth

  • http://samman14@verizon.net stretch

    THIS IS NOT AN OPTCAL ILLUSSION. IT BELONGIN THE TALK ILLUSION SECTION. WHAT A WASTE OF TIME. C’NON GIVE US REAL O,I.’S

  • catboy676

    kiki has sharp letters,
    bouba has round letters.

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