The high cost of big words

Evidently, vowels that you form in the back of your mouth (like the o in “two”) make people think of big sizes; people associate vowels formed in the front of your mouth with small sizes. At least, they do in the US. Does this mean that each culture has specific linguistic hacks built into it? How much of this is biology, and how much culture? Man, it really makes economics seem deficient, huh? Here’s some basic vowelconomics research:

In one experiment, researchers told consumers the regular and sale prices of a product, asked them to repeat the sale price to themselves, and then, a few minutes later, told them to estimate the size of the discount in percentage terms. Products with “small-sounding” sale prices (like $2.33) seemed like better deals than products with “big-sounding” sales prices (like $2.22).

In another experiment, the researchers used a pair of sale prices — $7.88, which sounds “big” in English, and $7.01, which sounds “small” — but are the other way around in Chinese. Chinese and English speakers had opposite perceptions of the products’ relative value.

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