Brain Activity Related to Sound Symbolism: Cross-modal Effect of an Aurally Presented Phoneme on Judgment of Size

Sci Rep. 2019 May 7;9(1):7017. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-43457-3.


Sound symbolism is the idea that a sound makes a certain impression (e.g., phoneme "p" is associated with an impression of smallness) and could be the psychological basis of the word-meaning association. In this study, we investigated the neural basis of sound symbolism. Subjects were required to compare the visual sizes of standard and target stimuli while listening to syllables assumed to create either a larger or smaller impression. Stimulus-response congruence is defined as the agreement between the target size and the syllable's impression. Behavioral data showed that the subjects displayed a longer reaction time under the incongruent condition than under the congruent condition, indicating that they tended to associate the object size with certain syllables. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate the cerebral activity during the task, and found that both semantic- and phonetic-process-related areas of the brain (left middle temporal gyrus and right superior temporal gyrus, respectively) were activated under the incongruent condition. These results suggest that these regions are associated with the incongruence of sound symbolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't