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On the taste of “Bouba” and “Kiki”: An exploration of word–food associations in neurologically normal participants

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We investigated whether there are reliable crossmodal associations between foods/flavours and words in neurologically normal individuals. Participants were given a range of foods to taste, and had to rate each one along a number of dimensions. These included scales anchored with the words "takete/maluma" and "bouba/kiki". The results highlight the existence of robust crossmodal associations between complex foods/flavours and words in normal (i.e., nonsynesthetic) individuals. For example, crisps (potato chips) and cranberry sauce are rated as being more "takete" than brie cheese, while mint chocolate is rated as more "kiki" than regular chocolate. On the basis of these results, we suggest that our brains can extract supramodal/conceptual properties from foods/flavours (just as has been demonstrated previously using auditory and visual stimuli) and meaningfully match them crossmodally. The possibility that this process is based on the global Gestalt of a food rather than on any specific sensory qualities is also discussed.
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SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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RUNNING HEAD: SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
On the taste of ‘Bouba’ and ‘Kiki’: An exploration of word-food
associations in neurologically normal participants
Alberto Gallace1, Erica Boschin2, & Charles Spence2
1. Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
2. Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford, UK
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE:
Dr. Alberto Gallace
University of Milano-Bicocca
Department of Psychology
P.zza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1
20126 Milan
Italy
Email: alberto.gallace1@unimib.it
RE-SUBMITTED TO: COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE (JULY, 2010)
WORD COUNT: 5045 words
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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ABSTRACT
We investigated whether there are reliable crossmodal associations between foods/flavours
and words in neurologically-normal individuals. Participants were given a range of different foods
to taste, and had to rate each one along a number of dimensions. These included scales anchored
with the words ‘takete/maluma’ and bouba/kiki’. The results highlight the existence of robust
crossmodal associations between complex foods/flavours and words in normal (i.e., non-
synaesthetic) individuals. For example, crisps (potato chips) and cranberry sauce are rated as being
more ‘takete’ than brie cheese while mint chocolate is rated as more ‘kiki’ than regular chocolate.
On the basis of these results, we suggest that our brains can extract supramodal/conceptual
properties from foods/flavours (just as has been demonstrated previously using auditory and visual
stimuli) and meaningfully match them crossmodally. The possibility that this process is based on
the global Gestalt of a food rather than on any specific sensory qualities is also discussed.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. AG is supported by a MIUR PRIN 07 grant. Correspondence
regarding this article should be addressed to Dr. Alberto Gallace, Room 3038, Dipartimento di
Psicologia, Universita’ di Milano-Bicocca, P.zza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, 20126 Milano, Italy. E-
mail: alberto.gallace1@unimib.it
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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Introduction
More than 80 years ago, the eminent psychologist Wolfgang Köhler (1929) presented a
group of Spanish speakers with a set of jagged and rounded shapes (see Figure 1) and asked them to
decide which shape was called ‘takete’ and which was called ‘baluba’. The results showed that
people exhibited a strong preference to associate the jagged shape with the word taketeand the
rounded shape with the rounded vowel sounds of ‘baluba(see also Newman, 1933; Sapir, 1929). It
is now acknowledged that the most likely reason for the existence of this ‘synaesthetic’ crossmodal
association1is that the sharp changes in the direction of the lines in the right-hand figure in Figure 1
mimics the sharp phonemic inflections of the sound takete, as well as the sharp inflection of the
tongue on the palate (e.g., Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001). Since Köhler’s original study, this
simple and elegant experiment has been successfully replicated many times, using a variety of
different word pairs (e.g., ‘takete/maluma’; Köhler, 1947; ‘kiki/buba’; Oberman & Ramachandran,
2008; Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001) and by testing participants who differed in terms of their
native spoken language (e.g., English, Indian Tamil, and Italian; see Belli, 2001; Ramachandran &
Hubbard, 2001; Taylor & Taylor, 1962). The results of these studies, together with the recent
discovery that children as young as 2.5 years of age (and therefore too young to have mastered
reading) also show synaestetic crossmodal associations (Maurer, Pathman, & Mondloch, 2006), has
been taken to suggest that the human brain automatically extracts (and matches) supramodal
properties of visual shapes and sounds (Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001; see also Gallace &
Spence, 2006; Marks, 1975; Parise & Spence, 2009).
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Insert Figure 1 about here
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At the moment, it is still uncertain whether synaesthetic associations between shapes and
sounds in non-synaesthetic individuals extend to other combinations of sensory modalities as well.
Indeed, associations in synaesthetic individuals between words or phonemes/graphemes and
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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taste/flavour (a condition known as ‘lexical-gustatory’ synaesthesia, where speech sounds induce an
involuntary sensation of taste that is subjectively located in the mouth) have been reported
(although much less often than have cases of auditory-visual synaesthesia; e.g., Day, 2005; Ferrari,
1907; Pierce, 1907; Simner, & Ward, 2006; Ward & Simner, 2003; Ward, Simner, & Auyeung,
2005; see also Cytowic, 1993; Cytowic & Wood, 1982, for the case study of a synesthetic
individual who experienced crossmodal associations between tastes/flavours and shapes), but never
before in non-synaesthetes. Lexical-gustatory’ synaesthetes report experiencing a certain
taste/flavour whenever they hear, read, or articulate certain words or phonemes (e.g., Simner &
Ward, 2006; Ward & Simner, 2003; Ward et al., 2005). On the basis of their extensive single case
study of an individual with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, Ward and Simner suggested that this
phenomenon does not simply reflect innate connections from one perceptual system to another (e.g.,
Baron-Cohen, Harrison, Goldstein, & Wyke, 1993), but that it may instead be mediated and/or
influenced by a symbolic/conceptual level of representation.
Following on from these observations, one might wonder whether crossmodal associations
between certain tastes/flavours and words are always affected by more conceptual or supramodal
levels of representation (i.e., not only in those individuals with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia; note
that professional chefs have been known to describe the meals that they prepare in terms of
‘sound/symphony’ or even in terms of the shapes that certain dishes evoke; e.g., see Bertolli, 2003).
That is, one might ask whether the flavour of a given food is naturally associated with a given
word-sound, just as reported for the case of words and shapes (e.g., Köhler, 1929; Sapir, 1929; note
that this point is also relevant to the question of whether or not language is based on ‘sound
symbolism’; e.g., Boyle & Tarte, 1980; Hinton, Nichols & Ohala, 1994)? Are the associations
between foods and words totally arbitrary or are there, for example, certain foods that can be
generally defined as more ‘bouba’ or more ‘kiki’ than others? Answering this question would
provide an interesting means of determining whether or not there are natural constraints on the ways
in which our brains map the sounds of words onto objects (e.g., Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001),
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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and whether the same (or similar) constraints potentially apply across all combinations of sensory
modalities (see Crisinel & Spence, 2009, 2010, in press; Gal, Wheeler, & Shiv, 2007; Simner,
Cuskley, & Kirby, submitted). In order to answer these questions, the participants in the present
study tasted a number of foods (without seeing them) and then rated each food on an anchored
visual analogue scale, where the endpoints could be pairs of fictitious words such as ‘kiki/bouba’ or
‘maluma/takete’, or pairs of adjectives (that are not typically associated with food) such as
‘strong/weak’ and ‘bright/dim’.
Importantly, the results of the present study are not only of theoretical interest but also have
implications in an applied context. In fact, understanding whether associations between foods and
words follows certain general rules and/or principles has important, and already recognized,
implications for the food marketing and design industries (e.g., see Belli, 2001; Klink, 2000, 2001).
Indeed, according to cultural trendspotters, this new millennium will continue to bring a “sensory
blending of tasting shapes, hearing colors, and seeing smells” (see Meehan, Samuel, &
Abrahamson, 1998).
Methods
Participants
Ten young adult participants took part in this experiment (see Table 1 for the number of
participants who tasted each food). All of the participants had normal gustatory perception by self-
report and no previous history of food-allergies to any of the foods (or their ingredients) used in the
experiment. The participants received a £5 (UK Sterling) gift voucher in return for taking part in the
study. The experiment took approximately 40 minutes to complete and was performed in
accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1991 Declaration of Helsinki.
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Insert Table 1 about here
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SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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Apparatus and stimuli
12 different foods were used in the experiment, comprising: milk chocolate, mint
chocolate, chocolate mousse, brie, cheddar cheese, regular salted crisps, salt and vinegar flavoured
crisps, regular white yogurt, strawberry yogurt, blueberry jam, lime jam, and cranberry sauce. The
food items were presented to participants in plastic cups (plastic spoons were provided where
appropriate) using a rotating platform. The platform was connected to a PC used to record the
ratings of the foods on 24 scales.
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Insert Table 2 about here
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The scales were designed using opposing pairs of words and non-words (e.g., strong-weak,
bouba-kiki, etc; see Table 2). The two words were presented at each end of a 500 pixel line and
participants used a mouse cursor in order to rate each food item along the line. The scales were
presented on a 17’’ monitor. Both the scales and the platform were programmed using MATLAB
(version 6).
Procedure
The participants sat in a chair in a darkened testing room for the duration of the experiment
facing the computer monitor and rotating platform. They were instructed to taste one sample (i.e., a
piece or spoonful) of each food item from the plastic cup (without touching or looking at it) at a
time and rate the item on each of the 24 scales as appropriately as they could, regardless of whether
the scale represented actual physical properties of the food or not. In order to rate the food on each
scale they were instructed to move the cursor along a line using the mouse and click at the point on
the line that they regarded as appropriate. Once the food had been rated on all 24 scales, the
platform would rotate and present the next food item. Note that the scales were presented in the
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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same order for each food while the order of food presentation was randomised across the
participants. The procedure was repeated for every food item up to a maximum of 10 foods tasted
per participant.
Results
The participants’ ratings of each of the food items were collected for each scale (see Figure
2). These data were submitted to 24 one-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs; i.e., one for each
scale; see Table 2). For those analyses that revealed a significant effect (indicating the presence of
differences between two or more of the foods), Duncan post-hoc tests were performed in order to
determine which pairs of foods showed significant differences in terms of participants’ ratings. The
results of these tests are reported in Table 3.
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Insert Figure 2 and Table 3 about here
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Discussion
The results of the present study demonstrate that people find certain foods to be significantly
better associated with ‘takete’ or with ‘maluma’ than others. For example, salt and vinegar
flavoured crisps were rated as being significantly more takete than brie or cheddar cheese.
Similarly, blueberry jam was rated as being significantly more maluma than mint chocolate. Similar
results were obtained when different word-pairs were used (e.g., takete/maluma, or kiki/bouba,
lula/riki), providing an internal replication of our results and thus suggesting that words-food
associations represent a robust phenomenon within neurologically-normal individuals. These results
therefore suggest that participants can extract certain supramodal properties from foods that they are
tasting and then associate them with fictitious (i.e., meaningless) words (or phonemes). This result
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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accords well with previous observations showing that people also associate certain visual shapes
with fictitious words (e.g., Köhler, 1929; Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001; Sapir, 1929).
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Insert Table 4 about here
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The analysis of the correlations between different scales offers further insights into the
nature of the effects reported here (see Table 4). In particular, it would seem that the texture of the
food is unlikely to be the primary determinant of whether a specific food is defined as more maluma
or more takete than another. This can be inferred from the lack of any significant correlation
between participants’ responses on the maluma/takete scale and their responses on those scales that
are likely to represent aspects of food/flavour that are more related to its oral-somatosensory texture
(e.g., hard/soft, rough/smooth, hot/cold, and wet/dry). Even purely gustatory food attributes such as
bitter/sour and salty/sweet do not seem to correlate with the participants’ decisions regarding the
maluma/takete dimension (though it should, perhaps, be noted that people sometimes confuse sour
and bitter; O’Mahony et al., 1979). By contrast, the participants’ decisions regarding the
maluma/takete dimension would appear to be determined at a more conceptual (i.e., rather than
perceptual) level of information processing (e.g., significant positive correlations were, for example,
found between the maluma/takete scale and the slow/fast and tense/relaxed scales). Interestingly,
previous studies have reported that rounded visual shapes (such as those used in Köhler’s, 1974,
early work) are often associated by neurologically-normal participants with concepts such as calm,
amused, love, and eternity, while angular shapes are often associated with concepts such as hostile,
resentful, anxious, and fearful (e.g., Lyman, 1979; see also Lyman, 1989). Therefore, one might
conclude that word-food associations are also likely conceptually mediated.
A possible explanation for the lack of any clear link between the more perceptual qualities
of a food and a given pseudo-word, might rely on the very nature of the associations being studied
in the present experiment. In fact, it is worth noting that in audio-visual associations sensory
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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information can easily be mapped in terms of its magnitude in the two modalities (e.g., a high
frequency sound can be matched to a bright colour by both synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes
individuals; e.g., Kadosh, Henik, & Walsh, 2007; Stevens & Marks, 1965; Ward, Huckstep, &
Tsakanikos, 2006). By contrast, lexico-gustatory associations in synaesthetic individuals seem to
lack this property (just as in higher grapheme-colour forms of synaesthesia; Ramachandran &
Hubbard, 2001) and therefore might need to rely on a more abstract level of information processing.
The same conclusions are also applicable to the other pairs of meaningless words, such as
kiki and bouba (e.g., significant positive correlations were found between this scale and that of the
active/passive, slow/fast, and tense/relaxed adjective pairs). On the basis of these observations, one
might wonder whether participants’ judgments regarding the maluma-takete nature of a given food
was based on the overall flavour Gestalt of the food itself (e.g., Delwiche, 2004; Spence, Sanabria,
& Soto-Faraco, 2007; Verhagen & Engelen, 2006), rather than on any particular sensory attribute.
This possibility certainly deserves further investigation in future research.
As far as the neural basis of synaesthetic associations is concerned, Ramachandran and
Hubbard (2001) have suggested that the oft-reported association between graphemes and colours in
synaesthetic individuals might result from the fact that those areas of the brain involved in the
processing of these two stimulus qualities lie adjacent to one another in the left fusiform gyrus.
They have suggested that the co-activation of brain regions that are adjacent may facilitate the
growth of connections between these regions and thus explain the occurrence of phenomena such as
synaesthesia. Therefore, one might wonder whether the flavour-phonological associations reported
in the present study might also, at least in part, be explained by such an anatomical account (at least
if one hypothesises that, up to a certain extent, the mechanisms underlying synaesthesia do reflect
universal cross-modal mechanisms; e.g., Sagiv & Ward, 2006; Ward, Huckstep, & Tsakanikos,
2006; see also Walker, Bremner, Mason, Spring, Mattock, Slater, & Johnson, 2010).
It is worth noting that the precise location of the primary gustatory cortex in humans has
been long debated among researchers, but that a number of recent studies have converged on the
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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suggestion that the posterior insula and parietal operculum constitute the most likely candidate
structures in humans (e.g., Kringelbach, de Araujo, & Rolls, 2004; Rolls, Yaxley, & Sinkiewicz,
1990; Stevenson, 2009). Most of the direct connections of gustatory areas are with somatosensory
areas SI, SII, caudal orbital region, areas 12 and 13, lateral prefontal region, area 46, anterior insula
(e.g., Cipolloni & Pandya, 1999; Gonzalez, Barros-Loscertales, Ventura-Campos, Garcia-Navarro,
Parcet, & Avila, 2009; Rolls et al., 1990). We believe that direct links between the primary auditory
and gustatory areas are unlikely to provide the best explanation for the presence of consistent
associations between words and foods in non-synaesthetic individuals (cf. Wesson & Wilson,
2010). More likely, the associations reported in the present study are determined by both direct and
indirect connections between gustatory areas and other regions of the frontal and temporal lobes
(e.g., Lara, Kennerley, & Wallis, 2009). In particular, indirect connections between gustatory areas
and those parts of the brain that are responsible for the processing of more abstract aspects of
words, such as the inferior frontal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus (see Wang, Conder, Blitzer, &
Shinkareva, 2010, for a review), are more likely to be involved in this crossmodal phenomenon.
That is, conceptual representations might be automatically (and perhaps even implicitly) activated
by the presentation of certain combinations of food properties (‘food Gestalts’). As a consequence,
participants' responses might be mediated by these higher order representations (supported by
amodal areas of the brain where abstract concepts are processed). Interestingly, it has been found
that certain aspects of visual stimuli are categorized by the brain very early (50-65 ms) after their
presentation, thus suggesting the existence of coarse and automatic categorization processes for the
rapid distinction of stimulus properties with strong significance for humans (Mouchetant-Rostaing,
Giard, Delpuech, Echallier, & Pernier, 2000). We suggest that similar mechanisms might also act
for the processing of flavours.
The fact that the gustatory areas of the cortex are highly connected with areas of the brain
that are responsible for the processing of emotional stimulus attributes (such as the insular cortex)
might lead to the suggestion (admittedly highly speculative at this stage) that food-word (or sound)
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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associations could also be driven by certain emotional qualities of the words. These hypotheses
should be tested in future research using combined behavioural and neuroimaging methods.
Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001) speculatively suggested that the origins of language
might have emerged from synaesthetic correspondences and, more specifically, from sensory-to-
motor and motor-to-motor forms of synaesthesia. That is, lip and tongue movements (not to
mention other vocalizations) may be synaesthetically linked to objects. For example, Ramachandran
and Hubbard, building on Sapir’s (1929) seminal work in this area, noted that words referring to
something small often involve making a synaesthetic small /I/ with the lips and a narrowing of the
vocal tracts (e.g., words such as ‘little’, ‘petite’, ‘teeny’ and ‘diminutive’), whereas the opposite is
true for words such as largeor enormous’. According to Ramachandran and Hubbard, the origins
of language are likely related to the mediation between speech and gestures exerted by motor
representations in the brain. That is, they suggest that a primitive vocabulary of gestures may have
evolved via these synaesthetic associations into a corresponding vocabulary of tongue/palate/lip
movements. They note, for example, that when pointing, people tend to direct their index finger
outward just as in many languages we produce a partial outward pout with the lips (as in English
‘you’, French ‘tu’ or ‘vous’, Italian ‘tu’ or ‘voi’, and Tamil ‘thoo’), and vice versa when pointing
inward.
One might wonder whether or not the results of the present experiment offer support to
Ramachandran and Hubbard’s (2001) theory. Interestingly, one of the arguments put forward by
Ramachandran and Hubbard in order to support their claims comes from an observation originally
made by Darwin (1872). That is, the father of the theory of natural selection noted that when we cut
something with a pair of scissors we often unconsciously clench and unclench our jaws. One
question to answer here is then: Are the jaws unconsciously mimicking the hands (and therefore
supporting the suggestion that gesture and pantomime might be synaesthetically associated with lip
movements and therefore that proto-language derived from the communicative use of gestures), or
rather is the hand that, while using the scissors, mimicking the ‘more ancestral’ movement that we
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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make when cutting food with our teeth (and therefore suggesting a phylogenetically older link
between movement and proto-language)?
In the present experiment, we have demonstrated that synaesthetic associations, that have
previously been shown to affect audiovisual integration (Parise & Spence, 2009), also extend to
food (an extremely important stimulus from an ecological point of view; see Young, 1968). Should
we conclude from this that language (or at least certain words) evolved from the movements that we
make when while we eat certain foods? We believe that this might not necessarily be the case, and
the results of our experiment offer an important clue against this possibility. That is, we can observe
that foods with the same texture, and that critically require similar mouth movements in order to be
eaten, are not perceived equally along the bouba/kiki dimension (see Figure 2). For example, plain
chocolate is rated as more bouba and maluma than mint chocolate! Therefore, jaw movements (and
their representations in the motor cortex) are unlikely to constitute the basis of this synaesthetic
association. In this case, the link between the sound of the word and the food is more likely
‘perceptual’ (or conceptual) than ‘motor’ in nature (and perhaps related to the ‘pungent’ flavour of
mint; e.g., Nagata, Dalton, Doolittle, & Breslin, 2005). Therefore, our results might be taken to
suggest that synaesthetic links between words and objects based on the motor attributes of the
stimuli (what Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001, call ‘synkinaesia’), just as acknowledged by
Ramachandran and Hubbard, is perhaps just one, but by no means the sole, or most important,
factor involved in the evolution of language.
Before making any important claim on the basis of the results reported in this study,
however, it is worth noting that the perception of a food’s flavour relies on a number of different
aspects of the stimuli such as gustatory, tactile, olfactory, and even auditory information (Spence et
al., 2010; Stevenson, 2009). It is therefore difficult to determine which of these factors contributed
most to the results reported here. It would certainly be interesting in future research to investigate
more directly the extent to which synaesthetic correspondences apply to each of the sensory
modalities (e.g., gustation, retronasal and orthonasal olfaction, oral-somatosensation) that contribute
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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directly to flavour perception (Delwiche, 2004) when evaluated individually. We believe that the
study of synaesthetic associations between each sensory modality might provide important cues to
help understand the early development of language.
At the very least, the results of the present study provide preliminary evidence of robust
synaesthetic links between the taste of food and the sound of words. That is, it appears that our
brains are able to extract (perhaps in an automatic fashion) abstract/conceptual properties not only
from visual and auditory stimuli, but also from food/ flavour stimuli (despite the fact that, from a
phylogenetic point of view, taste might be considered a more primitive sense; e.g., Amrein &
Thorne, 2005; Nofre, Tinti, & Glaser, 1996). These attributes are then matched across different
sensory modalities.
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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FOOTNOTES
1. The word synaesthesiahas been used to describe individuals who, when presented with a
specific stimulus from one sensory modality, report an additional sensory experience (in either the
same or a different sensory modality) that is not experienced by non-synaesthetes (e.g., Marks,
1975). The expressions ‘synaesthetic associations’ and ‘synaesthetic correspondences’ instead are
often used to describe certain congruency effects due to the presentation of a stimulus from a certain
sensory modality on the processing of stimuli presented from another sensory modality (e.g.,
Gallace & Spence, 2006; Martino, & Marks, 2000; Melara & O’Brien, 1987; Parise & Spence,
2009). These congruency effects are thought to be based on some sort of ‘similarities’ between the
two senses. The former expressions are used regardless of whether the participants tested are
synaesthetes or neurologically normal individuals. Moreover, the suggestion has been made that
these correspondences made by both synaesthetic and nonsynaesthetic individuals might be based
on the same underlying neurocognitive mechanisms (see, e.g., Karwoski & Odbert, 1938; Ward,
Huckstep & Tsakanikos, 2006).
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
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SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
21
FIGURE LEGENDS
Figure 1. An example of the figures used by Köhler (1929) in his pioneering experiment on word-
shape associations.
Figure 2. Results of the experiment reported here, highlighting the distribution of foods along all of
the scales tested in the experiment. The Y-axis represents the average rating of the
participants on the 500 pixel line adopted in the experiment. Positive values correspond to
the first of the two words presented in each pair and negative values correspond to the
second of the words (e.g., in panel A positive values indicate that participants rated the food
as being more ‘Good’ than ‘Bad’; in panel B negative values indicate that participants rated
the food as being more ‘Cold’ than ‘Hot’). Error bars represent the standard errors of the
means.
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
22
Figure 1
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
23
Figure 2
NON WORDS
A)
Kiki-bouba
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
B)
Maluma-takete
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
C)
Lula-ruki
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
24
FOOD-RELATED WORDS
D)
Soft-hard
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
E)
Wet-dry
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
F)
Rough-smooth
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
G)
Hot-cold
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
H)
Salty-sweet
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
25
NON-FOOD-RELATED WORDS
I)
High-low
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
L)
Light-heavy
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
M)
Fragile-sturdy
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
N)
Bright-dim
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
O)
Loud-quiet
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
P)
Light-dark
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
Q)
weak-strong
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
R)
Feminine-masculine
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
26
S)
Active-passive
-300
-200
-100
0
100
200
300
Brie
Cheddar cheese
Mint chocolate
Regular chocolate
Chocolate mousse
Salt & vinegar crisps
Regular crisps
Strawberry jam
Regular yogurt
Blueberry jam
Lime jelly
Cranberries jam
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
27
Table 1. Foods used in the experiment and number of participants who tasted each food.
Note that not all of the foods were tested by all of the participants. This was due to the
varying availability of the various foods at the time of testing (due to food conservation
issues or to the addition of new food items after the beginning of the experiment).
Food
Number of
participants
Regular chocolate
9
Mint chocolate
9
Chocolate mousse
8
Brie
7
Cheddar
7
Regular crisps
10
Salt & vinegar crisps
10
Regular yogurt
10
Strawberry yogurt
10
Blueberry jam
10
Lime jam
10
Cranberry sauce
6
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
28
Table 2. Pairs of words used as endpoints of the visual analogue scales adopted in the
experiment. The values of the ANOVA (F and p) performed on participants’ ratings of each
food are also reported beside the corresponding scale. Asterisks indicate the presence of
significant differences in the rating of different foods within a given scale. p values of .00
represent probabilities of less than .01.
Category
Scales
F
p
Non-Words
Food-related
Non food-related
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
29
Table 3. Results of the Duncan post-hoc tests. The scales where significant differences (p<=.05) between pair of foods were found are reported.
BRIE
CHEDDAR
CHEESE
MINT
CHOCOLATE
REGULAR
MILK
CHOCOLATE
CHOCOLATE
MOUSSE
SALT &
VINEGAR
CRISPS
REGULAR
CRISPS
STRAWBERR
Y YOGURT
REGULAR
YOGURT
BLUEBERRY
JAM
LIME
JELLY
CRANBERRY
SAUCE
BRIE
CHEDDAR
CHEESE
MINT
CHOCOLATE
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-
Dark
Loud-
Quiet
Bright-
Dim
Light-
Heavy
High-Low
Weak-
Strong
Kiki-
Bouba
Maluma-
Takete
Salty-
Sweet
Soft-Hard
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Loud-
Quiet
Active-
Passive
REGULAR
CHOCOLATE
Salty-
Sweet
Soft-Hard
Rough-
Smooth
Lula-Riki
Salty-
Sweet
Soft-Hard
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Light-
Heavy
High-Low
Maluma-
takete
CHOCOLATE
MOUSSE
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Lula-Riki
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
30
Wet-Dry
Soft-Hard
SALT &
VINEGAR
CRISPS
Light-
Dark
Loud-
Quiet
Bright-
Dim
Light-
Heavy
High-Low
Active-
Passive
Weak-
Strong
Maluma-
takete
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Loud-
Quiet
Bright-Dim
Light-
Heavy
Active-
Passive
Kiki-Bouba
Maluma-
takete
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Salty-
Sweet
Soft-Hard
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Loud-Quiet
Bright-Dim
Light-
Heavy
High-Low
Active-
Passive
Lula-Riki
Kiki-Bouba
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
Light-
Heavy
Active-
Passive
REGULAR
CRISPS
Rough-
Smooth
Light-
Dark
Loud-
Quiet
Bright-
Dim
High-Low
Weak-
Strong
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Loud-
Quiet
Bright-Dim
Active-
Passive
Kiki-Bouba
Salty-
Sweet
Soft-Hard
Rough-
Smooth
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
Soft-Hard
Light-
Heavy
Lula-Riki
Maluma-
Takete
Salty-
Sweet Soft-
Hard
Wet-Dry
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
STRAWBERRY
YOGURT
Rough-
Smooth
Salty-
Sweet
Feminine-
Masculine
Soft-Hard
Feminine-
Masculine
Light-Dark
Light-
Heavy
Weak-
Strong
Maluma-
Takete
Lula-Riki
Salty-
Sweet
Soft-Hard
Rough-
Smooth
Feminine-
Masculine
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
Weak-
Strong
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Feminine-
Masculine
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
Light-
Heavy
Weak-
Strong
Lula-Riki
REGULAR
High-Low
Feminine-
Wet-Dry
Wet-Dry
Wet-Dry
Salty-
Salty-
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
31
YOGURT
Masculine
Loud-
Quiet
Wet-Dry
Active-
Passive
Kiki-Bouba
Feminine-
Masculine
Light-Dark
Lula-Riki
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Feminine-
masculine
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Feminine-
masculine
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
BLUEBERRY
JAM
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Wet-Dry
Lula-Riki
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Soft-Hard
Loud-Quiet
Light-
Heavy
Kiki-Bouba
Maluma-
Takete
Light-Dark
Salty-
Sweet
Soft-Hard
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Loud-Quiet
Bright-Dim
Light-
Heavy
Active-
Passive
Kiki-Bouba
Maluma-
Takete
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Feminine-
masculine
Light-Dark
Loud-Quiet
Bright-Dim
Light-
Heavy
Kiki-Bouba
Maluma-
Takete
Wet-Dry
Light-Dark
Wet-Dry
Light-
Dark
LIME JELLY
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Loud-
Quiet
Bright-
Dim
Kiki-
Bouba
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Loud-
Quiet
Kiki-Bouba
Light-Dark
Light-
Heavy
Maluma-
Takete
Lula-Riki
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Light-
Heavy
Maluma-
Takete
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Light-
Heavy
Maluma-
Takete
Loud-Quiet
Lula-Riki
Kiki-Bouba
CRANBERRY
SAUCE
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
Soft-Hard
Lula-Riki
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
Light-
Heavy
Salty-
Sweet
Rough-
Smooth
Feminine-
Masculine
Light-Dark
Bright-Dim
Wet-Dry
Light-
Dark
SYNAESTHESIC ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN FOODS AND WORDS
32
Maluma-
Takete
... A growing body of research has now established the cross-modal linkages between speech sounds and sensory attributes (e.g., shape, size, creaminess) (e.g., Crisinel, Jones, & Spence, 2012;Gallace, Boschin, & Spence, 2011;Spence & Gallace, 2011;Sidhu & Pexman, 2018). Specific to the sensory domain of taste, research has also reliably demonstrated the link between vowels and consonants with tastes (e.g., long vowels with F i n a l A u t h o r ' s V e r s i o n sweetness; Pathak, Calvert, & Motoki, 2020). ...
... A growing body of research has now established the cross-modal linkages between speech sounds and sensory attributes (e.g., shape, size, creaminess) (e.g., Crisinel, Jones, & Spence, 2012;Gallace, Boschin, & Spence, 2011;Spence & Gallace, 2011;Sidhu & Pexman, 2018). Specific to the sensory domain of taste, research has also reliably demonstrated the link between vowels and consonants with tastes (e.g., long vowels with F i n a l A u t h o r ' s V e r s i o n sweetness; Pathak, Calvert, & Motoki, 2020). ...
... Just as the fizz/bubbles are perceived to be sour, in psycholinguistics, research has demonstrated cross-modal linkages between pseudo words (e.g.,kiki, takete) (i.e., those containing voiceless consonants /k/ and /t/) with sourness (Crisinel et al., 2012) and acidic tastes (e.g., vinegar) (Gallace et al., 2011). Similarly, consistent with the oral-somatosensory explanation of tingling of carbonation with sharp tastes, carbonated water is also strongly associated with sharp sounds (e.g., /t/, /k/) and angular shapes. ...
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Research suggests that speech sounds within a brand name can influence taste expectations of a product (e.g., voiceless consonants are often linked to sour tastes). Though carbonated beverages are sold across all markets in the world, to date, linkages between the brand names and their carbonation expectation yet remains unexplored. This research investigates how specific speech sounds contained within a brand name can enhance the carbonation perception of a beverage. Across three studies, we demonstrate that hypothetical brand names (or pseudo words) containing voiceless consonants (p, k, t, f) are more associated with carbonated beverages and spikiness compared to voiced consonants (b, d, g, v), which are more associated with still water and roundedness. In the fourth study, we examine the coexisting role/effect of the orthographic and phonemic angularity of individual consonants (and phonemic sounds) and confirm that voiceless (vs. voiced) consonants (and phonemic sounds) are more associated with spikiness (vs. roundedness). Our findings add to the growing body of literature linking sound symbolism, taste expectations and cross-modal correspondences.
... Another example is size sound symbolism (i.e., the mil/mal effect; Sapir, 1929) in which highfront vowels (e.g., /i/) show an association with small shapes, and low-back vowels (e.g., /ɑ/ as in bought) show an association with large shapes. Beyond shape and size, sound symbolic associations have been demonstrated for the dimensions of speed (Cuskley, 2013), personality (Sidhu et al., 2019), brightness (Newman, 1933), arousal (Aryani et al., 2018), taste (Gallace et al., 2011), social dominance (Auracher, 2017), and colour (Kim et al., 2018), to name a few. ...
... Our next goal was to address the question "4) Do higher order factors explain the fit between nonwords and visual stimuli?". Various studies have shown that phonemes have associations with perceptual stimuli, such as shapes (e.g., Nielsen & Dingemanse, 2011) or tastes (Gallace et al., 2011). Our goal was to examine whether shared higher order factors between nonwords and non-auditory perceptual stimuli play a role in these associations. ...
... Although not the main focus of this paper, in Experiments 2a and 2b, we also explored whether these higher order dimensions could explain associations between phonemes and perceptual stimuli. A similar explanation was put forth for associations between phonemes and different tastes (see Gallace et al., 2011). In Experiment 2a, we observed that when phonemes and abstract shapes were associated with the same higher order semantic factors, they were rated as being a good fit for one another. ...
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Sound symbolism refers to associations between certain language sounds (i.e., phonemes) and perceptual and/or semantic properties. Crucially, the different associations of a phoneme do not appear to be wholly independent. For instance, the phoneme /i/ is associated with sharpness, smallness and brightness. Previous work has shown that these properties are all related to one another (Walker et al., 2012). This suggests that higher order factors may underlie sound symbolic associations. In Experiment 1 we measured 25 different associations of phonemes and found that these associations clustered according to the higher order factors of: activity, valence, potency and novelty. In addition, certain phonemes were found to go along with different higher order factors. Then, in Experiments 2a and 2b, we demonstrated that higher order factors can play a role in associations between phonemes and abstract shape stimuli. Together these results characterize the role of higher order semantic properties in sound symbolism and contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying sound symbolism.
... Vision is not the only sense by which we experience the world, and several studies have searched for a phonosensory bias in different perceptual modalities. Iconic sensory analogies were then documented in various senses, such as touch (Fryer et al., 2014;Graven & Desebrock, 2018), smell (Atkinson, Speed, Wnuk, & Majid, 2021), kinesthesis (Fontana, 2013), and taste (Gallace, Boschin, & Spence, 2011). Iconic words that make reference to the auditory modality are particularly relevant in linguistic and cognitive research, since their phonosymbolic mapping takes place within a modality, relating verbal and non-verbal sounds. ...
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... For instance, we tend to associate lemon scent with a spiky shape and vanilla scent with a rounded shape [4], or high luminance with the right hemispace and low luminance with the left one [5]. This mechanism appears to be universal, as it was attested in populations from different cultures [6,7], and it is probably available at early stages of development, as suggested by studies on preverbal infants [8,9]. A recent line of research focused on the existence of crossmodal correspondences in non-human animals, providing positive evidence in several cases, all within the clade of mammals. ...
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... 4 Thus, most previous studies on this topic, especially those using real food with a certain degree of hardness, have been conducted in disciplines outside of linguistics (with a notable exception of Majid et al., (2018)). Gallace, Boschin, and Spence (2011) presented an interesting study on this topic. They explore the relationship between 12 different kinds of food and the nonce words takete/malma and bouba/kiki. ...
Chapter
This chapter explores how Japanese mimetics are used to verbally express the texture of rice crackers in real and imagined cases. Two experiments were conducted to test whether the use of mimetics varies when eating rice crackers as opposed to merely imagining eating rice crackers. The analysis of the mimetics used to express the physically perceived texture and the imagined texture of the rice crackers shows that these two situations may have different prototypes of rice crackers. This study suggests that the degree of iconicity of the same mimetics can vary according to the contexts in which they are used.
... As described by the affective ventriloquism effect, hedonic qualities of the product delivered through a sensory modality can be recalled via another sense . Similarly, it is well known how tactile attributes such as the solidity or resistance of a material influences judgments in other domains (Maggioni et al., 2015;Risso et al., 2019), or how the product or brand name can evoke specific thoughts about the quality and the price and can generate expectations (Etzi et al., 2016;Gallace et al., 2011;Spence, 2012a). ...
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... In particular, the findings of Schmidt et al. [138] on the association of spiky, angular shapes with hardness and of rounded shapes with softness, are in agreement with a whole body of sensory research on cross-modal correspondence between shape and taste, in which sweetness is associated with roundness and bitterness with angularity [140][141][142][143]. We learn from Snyder [20] that such association is as old, at least, as the 1 st century BCE, when the Roman poet Lucretius described taste in terms of the contact of particles of different shapes with the tongue, and later Cartesians argued that salt and vinegar were made of pointed shapes, causing their sharp and acidic taste. ...
Thesis
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... Maurer et al. (2006) later confirmed the association of the non-words "bouba" with a rounded shape and "kiki" with an angular shape amongst adults and toddlers. On food, the bouba and kiki effect was tested for products and beverages Gallace et al., 2011;Deroy and Valentin, 2011;Bremner et al., 2013;Ngo et al., 2013;Spence et al., 2013), tastes (Cytowic and Wood, 1982;Simner et al., 2010;Velasco et al., 2014Velasco et al., , 2018Wan et al., 2014Wan et al., , 2015Turoman et al., 2018), aromas (Hanson-Vaux et al., 2013;Metatla et al., 2019), dish presentation (Fairhurst et al., 2015) and mouth sensations (Gil-P erez et al., 2019;Winter et al., 2019;Hanada, 2020). Two groups of associations were well established: one between rounded shapes, sweetness, liking, symmetry and the non-words bouba/maluma/squid; and another between angular shapes with bitterness, sourness, disliking, asymmetry and the non-words kiki/takete/tuki (Spence and Ngo, 2012;Velasco et al., 2015aVelasco et al., , 2016. ...
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