Friday, March 09, 2012

Words Never Seen In This Blog: "You're Just My Type"?

This blogger studied typing in an evening continuing education course (before he knew what that was) in typing. Now, he spends hours each day, pounding on a keyboard to produce blog-posts that no one ever reads. If this is (fair & balanced) scrivening, so be it.

[x Wired]
The QWERTY Effect: How Typing May Shape The Meaning Of Words
By Dave Mosher

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A keyboard’s arrangement could have a small but significant impact on how we perceive the meaning of words we type.

Specifically, the QWERTY keyboard may gradually attach more positive meanings to words with more letters located on the right side of the layout (everything to the right of T, G and B).

“We know how a word is spoken can affect its meaning. So can how it’s typed,” said cognitive scientist Kyle Jasmin of the University of College London, co-author of a study about the so-called “QWERTY effect” in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. “As we filter language, hundreds or thousands of words, through our fingers, we seem to be connecting the meanings of the words with the physical way they’re typed on the keyboard.”

The effect may arise from the fact that letter combinations that fall on the right side of the keyboard tend to be easier to type than those on the left.

“If it’s easy, it tends to lend a positive meaning. If it’s harder, it can go the other way,” Jasmin said.

The QWERTY layout dates back to 1868. Until then, typewriters frequently jammed because some letters sat too close to one other on the keyboard. When typed in rapid succession, they sometimes stuck together.

In response, inventors created the QWERTY layout and sold it to the Remington company. The layout has stuck ever since, and with the transition from typewriters to personal computers, it became ubiquitous.

Jasmin and his colleague Daniel Casasanto, a social psychologist at the New School for Social Research, knew from previous research that the difficulty of using an object affected how positively or negatively people viewed it.

The effect is called fluency, and it even seems to affect abstractions such as people’s names. The more difficult it is to pronounce a person’s name, for example, the less positively we might view that person.

Tougher-to-type letter pairs tend to be found on a QWERTY keyboard’s left side, so Jasmin and Casasanto set out to explore the effects of fluency on typing and language.

“People are faster to type with their right hand than their left hand,” Jasmin said. “Combined with the fact that keyboard is asymmetrical, with more letters on left than the right, we had to know if there was correlation there.”

In their first experiment, the researchers analyzed 1,000-word indexes from English, Spanish and Dutch, comparing their perceived positivity with their location on the QWERTY keyboard. The effect was slight but significant: Right-sided words scored more positively than left-sided words.

With newer words, the correlation was stronger. When the researchers analyzed words coined after the QWERTY keyboard’s invention, they found that right-sided words had more positive associations than left-sided words.

In another experiment, 800 typists recruited through’s Mechanical Turk service rated whether made-up words felt positive or negative. A QWERTY effect also emerged in those words.

Jasmin cautioned that words’ literal meanings almost certainly outweigh their QWERTY-inflected associations, and said the study only shows a correlation rather than clear cause-and-effect. Also, while a typist’s left- or right-handedness didn’t seem to matter, Jasmin said there’s not yet enough data to be certain.

“But as far as I know, this is the first demonstration that even hints how a word is typed can shape what it means over time,” he said.

In the future, the researchers plan to scrutinize other kinds of keyboards.

“In different languages, there are other variations with more and different punctuation keys in different places and more letters on the right than the left,” he said. “Technology changes words, and by association languages. It’s an important thing to look at.”

Citation: “The QWERTY Effect: How typing shapes the meanings of words.” By Kyle Jasmin and Daniel Casasanto. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, published online March 3, 2012. Ω

[Dave Mosher freelances for Wired, National Geographic News, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and other outlets. Mosher graduated from The Ohio State University with both a B.S. & B.A in Biology and Journalism (Phi Beta Kappa).]

Copyright © 2012 Condé Nast Digital dba Wired

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