Vowel Sounds in words affect mental construal and shift preferences for targets

Sam J. Maglio, Cristina D. Rabaglia, Michael A. Feder, Madelaine Krehm, Yaacov Trope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A long tradition in sound symbolism describes a host of sound-meaning linkages, or associations between individual speech sounds and concepts or object properties. Might sound symbolism extend beyond sound-meaning relationships to linkages between sounds and modes of thinking? Integrating sound symbolism with construal level theory, we investigate whether vowel sounds influence the mental level at which people represent and evaluate targets. We propose that back vowels evoke abstract, high-level construal, while front vowels induce concrete, low-level construal. Two initial studies link front vowels to the use of greater visual and conceptual precision, consistent with a construal account. Three subsequent studies explore construal-dependent tradeoffs as a function of vowel sound contained in the target's name. Evaluation of objects named with back vowels was driven by their high-over low-level features; front vowels reduced or reversed this differentiation. Thus, subtle linguistic cues appear capable of influencing the very nature of mental representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1082-1096
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Decision making
  • Judgment
  • Language
  • Mental construal
  • Sound symbolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Vowel Sounds in words affect mental construal and shift preferences for targets'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this