Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Vivian M. Ciaramitaro

Second Advisor

Zsuzsa Kaldy

Third Advisor

Edward Tronick


Sound-shape correspondence or the ‘bouba-kiki’ effect refers to the non-arbitrary association between spiky (or rounded) abstract shapes with nonsense words like /kiki/ (or /bouba/), reported across cultures, languages, and ages. Current models explaining the ‘bouba-kiki’ effect have, for the most part, omitted the role of selective attention, the selection of information, and how it might impact the processing of features across the senses. To address this research gap regarding the role of attention on the ‘bouba-kiki’ effect, I conducted three series of experiments that examined how attentional factors modulated explicit and implicit measures of the ‘bouba-kiki’ effect.

In the first two series of experiments (Chapters 2 & 3), I explored what features were associated, and how strongly these features were associated, in children and adults at the Living Laboratory ®, Museum of Science Boston. Participants were asked to match seen abstract shapes or haptically explored unseen abstract shapes with auditorily-presented nonsense words, an explicit task. When not given information about what shape feature to attend to, 6-8 year-olds either exhibited associations based on different visual features compared to older children and young adults, or exhibited at-chance associations. When children’s attention was directed towards the relevant shape features, either via contextual cues or visual experience with abstract shapes they would later explore haptically, 6-8 year-olds exhibited adult-like association, highlighting the role of attention on explicit representations of sound-shape correspondences.

In the third series of experiments (Chapter 4), I examined how neural processing of visual shapes could be boosted by sounds in accord with sound-shape correspondence in adults by incorporating steady-state visual evoked potentials measured by electroencephalography, an implicit measure not requiring conscious report of matching features from participants. I found that voluntary attention towards shapes and sounds is not needed to establish an implicit representation of sound-shape correspondence in adults. Nonetheless, this implicit response could be impaired if participants’ attentional resources were depleted.

Together these findings converge to suggest that selective attention plays a critical role to the representation of sound-shape correspondence, measured explicitly and implicitly, with implications towards a unified model integrating selective attention and general multisensory processing.


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