It’s Bouba & Kiki’s World & We’re Just Living In It
“It’s not bad or good. It’s just vibes and vibes.”
You may be familiar with the psychological test known as the Bouba-Kiki effect, which is the phenomenon of associating sounds and shapes with specific characteristics arbitrarily. But after a TikTok user used the cognitive conundrum to explain her taste in men, the Bouba-Kiki effect has taken on a whole new meaning, and it’s honestly kind of genius.
Because the Bouba-Kiki effect uses fake words to prove its point, it can be difficult to explain what exactly it is, so bear with me. The Bouba-Kiki effect is a psychological test that maps speech sounds and visual shapes and features an image of a shape with round edges (which looks like a splat) and an image of a shape with sharp edges (like a star). The participants are then asked which shape they think is called “bouba” and which is “kiki,” and most will label the round shape as “bouba” and the spiky image as “kiki.” The experiment showcases how the brain makes associations based on sounds and shapes, regardless of language.
The first version of the test was originally conducted by Georgian psychologist Uznadze in 1924, where Uznadze showed participants six different drawings and had them select the names off a list. In 1929, psychologist Wolfgang Kohler modified the experiment by showing a group of participants a spiky shape and a round shape and asked them which was “takete” and which was “maluma.” It wasn’t until neuroscientist V.R. Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard repeated the experiment in 2001 that the terms “bouba” and “kiki” would be used to describe shapes similar to those below.
Now that you’ve seen the shapes for yourself, you can see why the blob is “bouba” and the spiky star is “kiki,” right? Well, over two decades after Ramachandran and Hubbard introduced the fake words into the world, TikToker @talialichtenstein has found a new way to use the Bouba-Kiki test in 2023 — this time, to describe her celebrity crushes.
In a TikTok posted on March 6, the creator prefaced the video by saying, “There’s something that’s always made perfect sense in my head, but I don’t know if anybody else understands it.” She then gives a brief explanation of the Bouba-Kiki effect, before summing it up in the best possible way: “if you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t.”
Once she was done ensuring that everyone was up to speed, Lichtenstein began to explain her version of the phenomenon. “I have always felt that there are people who are either ‘bouba’ or ‘kiki,’” says the TikToker. “And my type of man, the men that I’m attracted to, are all ‘bouba.’ Never ‘kiki.’” Again, if you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t.
The creator shares that she always struggles to explain her type, because people often mistake her usual descriptors — “dark facial hair, dark hair, dark eyes” — for a “kiki” man who isn’t her type at all. In this case, she uses Ian Somerhalder, Chase Crawford, Zac Efron, Robert Pattinson, and Austin Butler as examples of people she considers to be “kiki,” alluding that their “hard” features are the reason why.
As for men she is attracted to, Oscar Isaac and Jason Segel are among some of the famous names to earn the “bouba” title from Lichtenstein. She also lists Michael B. Jordan as part of the “bouba” group, saying, “he’s very sculpted, he’s very conventionally hot, but he’s ‘bouba.’” Makes sense to me. Despite having a sculpted face and sharp jawline, the viral creator cited Jon Hamm as another “bouba” man for the same reason.
Beyond having a “soft nose,” Lichtenstein didn’t share the qualities a man has to have to fall into the “bouba” category. Though that’s not surprising, because, similar to the actual Bouba-Kiki test, it’s probably pretty hard to verbalize what makes someone “bouba,” and what makes them “kiki” — it seems like it’s a feeling more than anything. Clearly her take on the test resonated with people, because the video has over 1.7 million likes on TikTok as of March 13.
If Lichtenstein’s version of the Bouba-Kiki effect makes sense to you, buckle up, because the creator’s views about the psychological test don’t end there. In a follow-up video posted on March 8, the TikToker shared she actually describes everything as either “bouba” or “kiki,” not just her taste in men.
Starting off easy, she calls a pillow “bouba” and a knife “kiki,” and if you already understand the whole Bouba-Kiki thing, the comparisons probably don’t require an explanation. She then gets a lot more abstract with her examples, calling things like New Orleans, Gilmore Girls, and werewolves “bouba,” while Phoenix, Arizona, Sex And The City, and vampires are all “kiki.” “It’s not bad or good,” the creator clarifies. “It’s just vibes and vibes.”
Whether you start using the Bouba-Kiki effect to explain your type, or to describe everything in your house, the creator will probably be happy to know there’s somebody out there who understands. And if you don’t... you just don’t.