Remembering that big things sound big: Sound symbolism and associative memory

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According to sound symbolism theory, individual sounds or clusters of sounds can convey meaning. To examine the role of sound symbolic effects on processing and memory for nonwords, we developed a novel set of 100 nonwords to convey largeness (nonwords containing plosive consonants and back vowels) and smallness (nonwords containing fricative consonants and front vowels). In Experiments 1A and 1B, participants rated the size of the 100 nonwords and provided definitions to them as if they were products. Nonwords composed of fricative/front vowels were rated as smaller than those composed of plosive/back vowels. In Experiment 2, participants studied sound symbolic congruent and incongruent nonword and participant-generated definition pairings. Definitions paired with nonwords that matched the size and participant-generated meanings were recalled better than those that did not match. When the participant-generated definitions were re-paired with other nonwords, this mnemonic advantage was reduced, although still reliable. In a final free association study, the possibility that plosive/back vowel and fricative/front vowel nonwords elicit sound symbolic size effects due to mediation from word neighbors was ruled out. Together, these results suggest that definitions that are sound symbolically congruent with a nonword are more memorable than incongruent definition-nonword pairings. This work has implications for the creation of brand names and how to create brand names that not only convey desired product characteristics, but also are memorable for consumers.




Preziosi, M. A., & Coane, J. H. (2017). Remembering that big things sound big: Sound symbolism and associative memory. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 2(1).

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